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August 21, 2020



written by: Yeon Sang-ho and Park Joo-Suk
produced by: Lee Dong-ha
directed by: Yeon Sang-ho
rated: not rated
runtime: 116 min.
U.S. release date: August 21, 2020 (limited)


When Yeon Sang-ho’s “Train to Busan” came out in 2016, it hit all the right zombie action movie beats, while providing a crucial dynamic element by limiting the characters to the tight confines of its titular vehicle. Even if you prefer slow zombies, this was an absorbing movie with engaging characters, some clever humor and crazy knee-jerk attacks from the recently deceased. Now there’s “Peninsula” (wonkily titled “Train to Busan: Peninsula” for North American release), a sequel also directed by Yeon that takes place four years after the events of the previous film. Just knowing that about the is enough to pique the interest of fans, but unfortunately what occurs in this movie makes one appreciate the previous one even more.

What’s most curious about “Peninsula” is how it’s one of those rare sequels that takes place in the same world that was previously established, yet without including any of the surviving characters from the last movie. In leaning moreso on the setting as opposed to the characters, “Peninsula” is aiming for a broader audience (in that case, the “Train to Busan Presents” part of the title can easily be dropped).

To the movie’s benefit, no one has to have heard of or seen “Train to Busan” to follow or get something out of “Peninsula”. There’s a brief introduction to the main characters, followed by a sequence that shows some random white guy guest on a news show explaining all that has transpired. It’s helpful to learn what supposedly caused the outbreak and what has transpired, but it seems all too convenient since no one in the movie is actually watching this show. Still, it establishes the situation in a succinct manner.




The story, co-written by Jeon and Park Joo-Suk, introduces us with former Marine Captain Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), both of whom have been living in Hong Kong since fleeing South Korea four years ago. They are found distraught due to their shared trauma, in an identifiable fog of guilt and bitterness which is medicated by a steady flow of alcohol. They are also recognized as refugees from South Korea by Hong Kong residents, which seemingly spreads a fervor of fear wherever they go. They might as well go back to Korea and take their chances with the zombies.

Such an offer comes when Jung-seok is approached by a local gangster who offers him a job to return to a quarantined South Korean peninsula in order to retrieve an abandoned delivery truck containing duffel bags of U.S. currency totaling $20 million. It’s unclear how the money wound up in the truck, how this gangster came upon it or why it was left there. Jung-seok would have to find the truck and drive it to Incheon, where he’ll be picked up by a ship will pick him up and he’ll be able to split half of the booty between himself, Chul-min, and two other Koreans assigned to the job.

Hoping the money will change things for himself and his brother-in-law, Jung-seok takes the job and is soon smuggled into the peninsula as part of a quartet that must navigate their way through a desolate landscape under the darkness of night. As it was established in “Train to Busan” the zombies in these movies are attracted to light and sound, so it’s best to travel at night and be as quiet as possible…it’s obvious how that will play out, of course.




The foursome find the truck, but it becomes quite clear that’s the easiest part of this gig. It also becomes clear that any comparisons to the heist thriller “The Wages of Fear” ends here. The main obstacles they encounter aren’t the hordes of super-fast zombies that could be around any dark corner, but rather the humans who are still living in this supposed no-man zone. When they’re ambushed by rogue militia called Unit 631, it’s a reminder that the best zombie movies know that the biggest threat is often what the living are capable of doing to survive in such dire conditions.

Other humans are introduced when Jung-seok and Chul-min are separated, which makes for interesting scenarios for each character. Jung-seok is rescued by a pair of resourceful sisters, Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), the latter of whom is incredibly capable behind the wheel of their battered vehicle as she mows down hordes of zombies at high speeds and insane turns. The siblings have grown up in this environment, living under the radar with their mother Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and grandfather (Kwon Hae-hyo), making them somewhat nonplussed at the potential dangers around them. The precocious and scrappy girls are a welcome levity to the movie’s overall dour and dark tone. In a move that seems a bit too coincidental, the screenwriters link this family to a previous encounter Jung-seok had in the movie’s harrowing opening, but such a correlation can be dismissed since the characters and the actor’s who play them are quite engaging. That the family takes Jung-seok under their protection and agrees to help him track down the truck, offers an interesting story arc for Gang Dong-won to explore considering how haunted he is from past failures.

Chul-min however is not as fortunate. He’s discovered hiding in the money truck that is taken by Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and brought back to the militia compound overseen by Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and his right hand man, Private Kim (Kim Kyu-baek). Not as equipped for military action as Jung-seok, Chul-min must find a way to survive and hopefully reunite with his brother-in-law. When he’s tossed in with other prisoners who are then thrown into a “fend for yourself” pit where crazed zombies are unleashed upon them, it’s obvious the poor guy would’ve been better off staying in Hong Kong.




As these other humans are introduced, “Peninsula” primarily becomes a heavily-fueled actioner with an emphasis on impossible car chases and Roman coliseum type zombie games. This results in some unexpected narratives that are thrilling despite being mostly unsatisfying – that’s partly due to how these scenes either conjure other movies or how challenging they are to follow since everything occurs in the dark at a frenzied pace. Although “Train to Busan” editor Jimmo Yang and cinematographer Lee Hyung-deok reunite with director Yeon, the environment they are working with and presenting is often difficult to follow, resulting in many of the vehicular action coming across like the kind of action found in video games.

I recently saw online someone compared “Peninsula” to a hybrid of other popular genre movies: “Escape from New York” (or L.A. for that matter), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (“Beyond Thunderdome” is probably more accurate) with a dash of some of the latter installments of the “Fast and Furious” movies. That’s not so far off. Curiously, none of those other movies had zombies in them, instead they are either post-apocalyptic or over-the-top action flicks (or elements of both), which made the undead in this sequel somewhat less threatening, or frightening for that matter. This means, if you’re going into “Peninsula” solely hoping for some zombie terror, you’ll probably end up feeling a bit gypped.

I would be jealous of anyone seeing this movie before checking out “Train to Busan” for the first time. Viewed in that order, you’d go from a zombie apocalypse movie that casts a wide net to one that successfully delivers a more concise and taut thriller, providing a more satisfying viewing experience.

“Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula” was scheduled to premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival this past May, but that didn’t happen once the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It has since received box-office success when it was released in Korea last month and it will remain to be seen what reception it receives during its limited run North American release. It is out now in local Chicago theatres, including the historic Music Box.






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