Directed by Yeon Sang-ho.
Starring Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, and Lee Ye-won.
Four years after South Korea’s total decimation in Train to Busan, the zombie thriller that captivated audiences across the globe and dazzled the worldwide box office, acclaimed director Yeon Sang-ho brings us Peninsula, the next nail-biting chapter in his post-apocalyptic world. Jung-seok, a soldier who previously escaped the diseased wasteland, relives the horror when assigned to a covert operation with two simple objectives: retrieve and survive. When his team unexpectedly stumbles upon survivors, their lives will depend on whether the best—or worst—of human nature prevails in the direst of circumstances.
Rather than go with a continuation of the plotline and characters from 2016’s strongly received South Korean zombie apocalypse action/horror hybrid Train to Busan with the sequel titled Peninsula (the whole affair has a really awkward full title of Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula that this review will be shortening down to both make things easier to read and preserve a little of what remains from our collective sanity), writer (alongside co-writer Park Joo-Suk) and director Yeon Sang-ho has opted to tell an entirely new story within the same universe. It’s a universe that now resembles Mad Max with zombies and the sort of kinetic, propulsive action to be expected from Korean cinema.
We are introduced to these new characters during events that appear to be running parallel to the original Train to Busan, where a hardened military serviceman named Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) is flooring it across the country to get on a boat functioning as the closest thing to a sanctuary. During this opening sequence, an English-speaking guest on a late-night American talk show broadly summarizes the origins of the virus alongside aspects of the first film. Nevertheless, the family arrives and successfully boards, unsurprisingly cramped with survivors tightly packed in like sardines, with cinematography appropriately capturing a claustrophobic feeling. Soon after, and this is something highly relatable in the disastrous year that is 2020, one individual becomes infected pretty much immediately passing it on to everyone, including Jung-seok’s sister and nephew that, exciting action segment aside, he fails to save. It turns out, he is sort of a coward and flees, urging his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) that they couldn’t be saved.
Four years later the two relatives are somewhat miserable and still grieving living in Hong Kong, accepting a mission from an unsavory group to return to that eponymous peninsula to locate a truck containing $20 million (apparently, money still has value in some parts of the world during the apocalypse) and retrieve it, all with extraction plans also in place.
Despite the near pitch-black darkness, the carefully selected group of four are not the only ones still on the peninsula, as they have to contend with hordes and hordes of zombies (rendered with questionable CGI effects that nonetheless are somewhat passable given the almost constant nighttime setting) and a militia that initially had good intentions for survivors before transitioning into a crazed band of lunatics that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mad Max flick. Twisted games of forcing other survivors to evade zombies in an arena aside, there are even camerawork touches such as crash zooms paying homage to George Miller directly.
Yeon Sang-ho still has interesting ideas of his own, as after the mission goes to hell Jung-seok stumbles across a pair of siblings that know how to hold their own by smartly using an RC car as a decoy. Peninsula boasts quite a few car chase sequences that are varying degrees of entertaining (the special effects, unfortunately, do stick out and bring down the intensity a little bit), but it’s also cleverly concerned with taking advantage of the stupidity of zombies and unique ways that it can be done. It might not be the best trade-off to the relentlessly tense melee brawling found throughout all of Train to Busan, but there’s also something to appreciate that the filmmakers want to try something new rather than repeat success.
Peninsula is also a tale of redemption that eventually works even if the characterization pales in comparison to the first film. Truthfully, while watching this sequel I found myself going back and forth on whether or not I would recommend this, but the third act is able to reach some heavy emotional beats whether or not the characters have much depth. Part of this comes from the fact that there is serviceable acting across the board, even if the movie occasionally forces everyone to speak English once in a while, which comes out awkward and badly performed compared to everyone’s native language. Fortunately, a thrill ride such as Peninsula is a universally enjoyable and worthy sequel that retains elements from what made Train to Busan stand out while also not being afraid to experiment with its own style.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com