2016’s Train to Busan is one of those movies that people got interested in regardless of its international beginnings. It has all the trappings of a modern hit: zombie horror plot, readily available on Netflix years after its cinema release, and an emotional and painful ending designed to get audiences to tell their friends “oh my god Train to Busan will make you cry”. While it may not be a movie I love, I can’t deny how great it is that Train to Busan has had the kind of mainstream impact it has had. In some ways it feels like it paved the way for Parasite’s overwhelming success four years late, though they are wildly different films.
Four years after the first film, we’re given the standalone sequel titled Peninsula, and I’m here to tell you it is a terrible waste of time.
The plot here shows the world has completely closed off all connection possible to South Korea after the entire mainland was quarantined and effectively turned into a hellscape from the massive zombie outbreak. Brothers-in-law Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) and Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) are hired by Hong Kong criminals to retrieve bags of $US20 million in cash from an abandoned food truck. The operation requires the two men to return to the South Korean mainland, and in this operation they descend the depths of what the survivors have become since their world ended.
Leaving the remaining characters from the first movie alone and deciding to do a sequel with new characters is smart and inspired, but none of our new characters, including the mainland survivors Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), her father Elder Kim (Kwon Hae-hyo) and two children Jooni (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), are as remotely interesting as the ones we knew before. What is worse is that unlike many sequels, Peninsula retains the original director, producer, and writer. Director Yeon Sang-ho returns, as does screenwriter Park Joo-suk and producer Lee Dong-ha, and this wasn’t a rushed production coming out a year after the first film. Four years would suggest a real attempt to get the script right and ready to make something different yet still worthwhile. Instead Peninsula is the same old regurgitated zombie movie we’ve seen dozens of times before.
Train to Busan wasn’t the most exceptional zombie movie either, but was still a winning combination of thrilling action sequences, effective characterisation and a naturally tense setting, all the while threading themes of paranoia and social deconstruction through a time of a horrifying crisis. Not new, but impactful. The emotional core was its strongest asset, with young Kim Su-an delivering one of the most painful and real child performances you could ever see. All of this kind of goodwill of social consciousness and strong emotions is replaced with broad comedy, bigger action, overreliance on CGI, basic themes associated with stories about survivors of the apocalypse, and bland characters cut wholesale from the most boring of Western action movies.
There is no wit, no energy, no real need to actually watch it, unless you either really love everything from South Korean cinema or just want a harmless kick of simplistic zombie action. Peninsula could have been something great, something that could further on the great things found in Train to Busan that have kept it alive as a new genre staple for audiences around the world. Peninsula could have been Dawn of the Dead to Night of the Living Dead. Instead, this is just 28 Weeks Later to 28 Days Later; all the same intentions yet none of the right ideas ultimately.
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