Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

Maybe South Korea was a comparatively fortuitous location for the zombie outbreak, because it is a peninsula, with heavily fortified northern border. The country fell, but remnants of humanity endured. However, they are often more dangerous to encounter than the unthinking zombie hordes in Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, which opens this Friday on VOD and at select theaters.

Junior army officer Han Jung-seok thought he was saving his family by getting them on the last transport out Korea, but instead, he hastened their death from an infected passenger. Only his resentful brother-in-law Goo Chul-min survives. Ironically, they are forced to seek sanctuary in Hong Kong (where in the real world, millions of Hong Kongers are eager to acquire their BNO credentials). Treated with contempt and barely scraping by, Han and Goo agree to a dodgy proposal from a HK crime boss. They are supposed to slip into Incheon, secure an abandoned armored car full of American Dollars, and bring it to the rendezvous point. For their efforts, they will get a percentage.

Of course, the zombies do not care about money, but the fortune hunters face a greater threat from a gang of former army troops, who have devolved into
Mad Max-style barbarians. Yet, there are also good people surviving in the shadows, like Min-jung and her family.

is getting a lot of angry reviews, because it is not exactly like Train to Busan, Yeon’s breakout hit. Instead, his sequel is much more action-oriented. In a sense, Peninsula is to Train what Aliens was to Alien. Yeon did not simply make the same film again, which is always a risk. Arguably, Peninsula is much less like a typical zombie film than even Train. By this time in the saga (that began with the animated Seoul Station), zombies are just part of the terrain that must be navigated. In fact, the survivors figure out clever ways to use zombies as weapons against their human foes.

Granted, the characterization is not as strong in the second film and most of the time spent at the enemy’s underground base is a real energy drain. As Han, Gang Dong-won’s action chops are pretty credible, but his sullen screen presence is not particularly engaging. Of course, everyone pales when compared to Don Lee in
Train, but Lee Jung-hyun and Kwon Hae-hyo (a staple from Hong Sang-soo’s recent films) deliver some emotional payoff as Min-jung and Mr. Kim, the maybe-not-as-crazy-as-he-looks grandpa.

It is always a challenge to follow-up a phenomenon like
Train, especially when the awkward Fast & Furious Presents-style title conspicuously calls out the connection. Peninsula is different, but that’s good. Don’t worry, Yeon dim view of humanity remains unchanged. Regardless, what’s important is the wild rollercoaster ride he takes us on. Recommended for fans of action-driven horror, Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula releases this Friday (8/21) via VOD and in select re-opened theaters.