From the Archives: Train to Busan: Peninsula review

From the Archives: Train to Busan: Peninsula review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on MovieJawn.

Back in 2016, Train to Busan took genre fans by surprise. The undead attacking a train years after zombie cinema fizzled out? No thanks. But lo and behold, it turned out to be an incredibly intense, incredibly emotional flick that showed, in no uncertain terms, that zombie infection stories still had plenty of life left in them, so long as the characters are complex and the story is directed with verve. Revisiting it in anticipation of the sequel was a joy. I laughed, I cried, I shuddered, I marveled at how the animation instincts of writer/director Sang-ho Yeon translated to live-action. So much mileage is gained from a strong geographic blocking of each scene that the pace remains breathless throughout, and the characters are written so strongly that every emotional beat hits its target. It’s a tremendous film.

The follow up, Peninsula, attempts to take the story one step further by expanding upon the central set-piece, while still adhering to the general rules of a single-location thriller. While there are a handful of exciting moments peppered throughout, it is unfortunately not a success. The story takes place four years after the first entry, at a time when zombies have, to a degree, become a part of every day life for much of the region. After an effective and harrowing “infection day” opening sequence, in which we meet a handful of our players as they suffer a gruesome tragedy, we are transported to present day Hong Kong.

Jung-Seok (Dong-wan Gang) and his brother-in-law Chul-Min (Do-yoon Kim) are outsiders in China where, as Koreans, they are negatively associated with the zombie infection by the locals. They scrape by as best as they can, but it ain’t pretty. Then one day they receive the opportunity of a lifetime from a Chinese mobster: return to the infected port of Incheon under the cover of night to retrieve an abandoned truck filled with $20,000,000.00 in cold, hard American cash. If they can successfully retrieve the loot, they can keep half of it for themselves. They are teamed up with two other Koreans, given a satellite phone, and armed to the teeth. Should be easy, right?


Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and what follows is a mashup of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and 28 Days Later, only with poor lighting, mediocre-to-poor effects work, and a roster of characters that want to be cared about, but don’t provide good enough reason to do so.

While Train to Busan used the freedom of imagination granted by an animation mindset to inspire the directorial choices of a live-action film, Peninsula goes the opposite direction. It replaces live-action with rubbery, physics-defying animated effects, devoid of any sort of imagination. Rubbery cars that move with dream logic mowing down hordes of rubbery zombies with the occasional drivers seat reaction shot spliced in to let us know that there are real people involved. It’s unconvincing, and almost immediately the extended action sequences become simultaneously exhausting and bland. Occasionally a beat will hit, but these inspired moments are quickly lost in the colorless cacophony of it all.

The meat of the movie is a run-and-gun rescue mission that would honestly make an incredible video game — a medium that allows you to play through the plot, which can pave over lapses in character. But to sit back and watch it all unfold here is an exercise in testing one’s patience.

While the characters are pretty undercooked overall, you can see the efforts being made to create the same emotional resonance on display in the original film. Familial bonds, business partnerships, and a surprising connection between two seemingly unrelated characters are made apparent, but none of these ties are given proper time to really set in. When characters are either ripped to shreds by zombies or manage to escape an attack, the film uses all the typical tonal/musical/performance cues to let us know how to feel…but it just doesn’t take. By going bigger with the plot, the story ends up shrinking.

There’s another infection going around. It’s called “sequelitis” and Peninsula has a pretty rough case of it.

All said, the pace is kept high throughout, and the action beats that do work work reasonably well. It’s a slick enough watch that I’d certainly recommend it to a completist. In a sea of high concept zombie movies, it’s far from the worst you can do. But as a sequel to one of the best zombie movies ever, Peninsula is a disappointment.

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