Train to Busan: Peninsula Review: Zombies Wreak Havoc In Action-Packed, Serviceable Spin-Off
Welcome back to Zombieland — and the cinemas.
Starring Gang Dong-Won, Lee Jung-Hyun, Kim Min-Jae, Koo Gyo-Hwan
Directed by Yeon Sang-Ho
Spoiler alert: There is no train in Train to Busan: Peninsula, just cars. Lots of them. But more of that in a bit.
You probably know by now that Peninsula isn’t a sequel to the 2016 Korean zombie smash — it’s a spin-off set in the same universe as that movie, featuring none of the original characters (then again, how many of them survive to see the end credits?). Both are directed by Yeon Sang-Ho, who also did the animated prequel Seoul Station.
Peninsula opens with Gang Dong-Won’s army officer Jung-Seok and his sister and her family fleeing the Z pandemic around the same time as the events of the first movie. They make it out of Korea, but not before suffering some losses.
Cue to four years later. The Land of the Morning Calm is now the Land of the Living Dead, a failed state shunned by the rest of the world. (So during this time they have yet to find a zombie virus vaccine?) Meanwhile, our hero Jung-Seok is a refugee in Hongkong, presumably eking out a living by running errands for gangsters.
And one such crime boss offers Jung-Seok a deal he can’t refuse: return to soulless Seoul and recover bags of moolah stashed in a truck somewhere in soulless Seoul. If the operation is successful, he gets a cut of the loot. And if he doesn’t? Oh well, there’ll be another desperado lining up to finish the job.
Along with three other desperadoes, they’re off to the Republic of Zombieland. But the mission gets a little complicated when they encounter an off-their-rockers militia group called Unit 631, and a single mother (Lee Jung-Hyun) whom Jung-Seok once crossed paths with.
The plot of Peninsula is a retread of District B13 (or Escape from New York, depending on what you had for breakfast), but with zombies. Let’s face it, it’s surreal and unsettling to watch a zombie apocalypse movie amid a real-life pandemic. I know cinemas are banking on Peninsula to revive their post-circuit breaker fortunes, but it isn’t exactly the kind of escapist fun I was pining for. Sorry.
And that’s not just it. In the months leading up to Peninsula's release, there was no shortage of zombie content to keep us distracted while we were all cooped up at home— The Walking Dead, Kingdom, Reality Z, and if you’re a gamer, The Last of Us Part II (Help! I’m stuck at the ‘Ground Zero’ level!). In other words, I came to Peninsula well-fed — and with skyscraper high expectations. So does it bring anything new to the flesh-devouring table? Er…what’s the question again? Oh yes, isn't any good?
The cool thing about the Train of Busan is that the frenetic action unfolds aboard a train — that’s its USP. Peninusula, on the other hand, lacks that claustrophobic atmosphere. The new battleground — a hellish post-apocalyptic landscape (was the place struck by an earthquake?)— is stunning if a little shopworn. Unlike the original movie, which is set in broad daylight, Peninsula takes place mostly in the dark, so pray that the projectionist at your cinema doesn’t cut corners on the luminosity.
Still, it has a couple of 'wow' moments, like the startling scene where zombies are trapped in an escalator weather shelter with their faces pressed against the glass window. Elsewhere, there’s an intense, rather CG-reliant vehicular chase through the ruined metropolis that will appease Fast & Furious fans. A second pursuit in the end isn’t as impactful.
Another highlight: the Unit 631 stronghold in a dilapidated shopping mall where the basement atrium doubles as a gladiator arena for men-vs-zombies death-matches. I can’t wait to see this set-piece remade as a Halloween Horror Nights attraction at Universal Studios.
Peninsula doesn’t reach the visceral heights of its predecessor but it’s never dull. It hits the marks where it’s supposed to, except in the final stretch where the human drama gets in the way of a satisfying wrap-up. I won’t go into details about the scene; it’s just that the exasperating scene goes on and on and it'll make you scream… but for all the wrong reasons. (***)
Photo: Clover Films/Golden Village