Train to Busan presents Peninsula | 2020 | Unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | starring Dong-won Gang | directed by Sang-ho Yeon | 1 hr 56 mins | In Korean with English Subtitles |
Season 6 Premiere
In 2016, amid serious public fatigue over anything walking dead, Sango-ho Yeon’s 2016 Train to Busan became a modest streaming hit with it’s mix of fast zombies and genuine Korean pathos. Conceptually, the simplest of elevator pitches – “Zombies on a Train” – Train was executed with cleverness and style. That’s why Peninsula has the awkward “Train to Busan presents” slapped in front of it’s title. Less a sequel and more an expansion of his universe, returning director Yeon puts together a completely different experience for the series, but one that will feel familiar against any other zombie movie. Peninsula is 28 Weeks Later and more recently and directly, Army of the Dead, but when it takes off it is a lot more fun than those movies. A lot of people aren’t going to go for the series turn from serious high-stakes zombie thriller to campy B-movie nonsense, but Yeon (also of the recommendable Korean series Hellbound) pushes through familiarity to deliver something fun while it lasts.
4 years after the outbreak of a fast zombie virus and the rumored safe haven of Busan turned out to be anything but, the Korean peninsula has been blockaded off from the rest of the world, sealing in zombies and any remaining inhabitants to fend for themselves. It’s an opportunity for pirates in the form of an American contractor and his group of military trained thieves to plunder fortunes that were left behind in the apocalyptic wake. Hired for the heist, veteran Jung Seok (Dong-won Gang, Illang: The Wolf Brigade) leads a small quartet into the port city of Incheon under the cover of night to find an abandoned truck and come back with $20 million, but a undead horde and a group of post-apocalyptic survivalists complicate the plan.
Part Army of the Dead, part Mad Max (or The Warriors) and trapsing over the same ground Neil Marshall’s genre smashup Doomsday, Peninsula seems like it would feel derivative of a lot of other movies but for the snap of the pacing, a tight grip on some of the craziest car chases outside of a Fast and the Furious movie and concern for a set of characters at the center. Aside from Seok, who of course has the requisite tragic past, the guilt riding on his shoulders, we are introduced to a mother, grandfather and two zombie-fearless kids left behind in the city ruins, and multi-pronged group of villains who – naturally – capture people and pit them against zombies in a Thunderdome for entertainment.
It’s the middle section, where the film turns into Thunderdome where Peninsula drags a bit, and that’s despite Yeon’s neon coloring and unbroken takes in the zombie rumbles, but the first and third act are where this movie clicks. Like the perpetually moving train in Busan, Peninsula is also about motion with Yeon staging wacky scenes of cars careening through dark, cluttered streets with the two youngest children expertly using their drifting skills to plow through hordes of zombies. The special effects here look like a video game, probably only kept from looking worse by the dark flat finish on the frame, and the cars bounce and stop on a dime like the cars in Cars without any sense of weight to them. It looks like something between a Super Bowl car commercial and a Playstation 3 game. Yeon commits entirely to this look entirely however, playing it off like the movies deliberately cartoonish aesthetic. As someone that doesn’t think a movie’s job is to be photo-realistic, I’m here for this.
Peninsula is a rare mid-budget thriller. One that has a little more money to do what it needs to than an indie film but doesn’t become an over-blown CGI nightmare. A zombie movie without a drop of blood, Yeon succeeds in tone here, mounting this entry in the series like a Hollywood summer blockbuster that’s just good and low key enough to fly under the radar. The third act of this movie is a blast and would have been fun to see in a theater. File it under Guilty Pleasure and cheesy movies that work far more than they should.