As you may or may not know, I have become somewhat of a zombie flick afficionado over the last year. Especially now during the ongoing pandemic, there is nothing more suited to the zeitgeist, so of course we have several recommendations for you.
And what better way to spread even more of the creepy Halloween spirit than with the new sequel to one of the greats?
Or so you’d think.
Train to Busan was released in 2016 and is still considered one of the scariest and most intense zombie movies to date. In part, that accolade may be attributed to the terrifying fact that Korean zombies, as opposed to American or British ones, are Oplympic-grade sprinters. Yikes.
Now in 2020, the film gets a sequel and, before I hit you with the spoilers let me just say, it is perfect for those of you looking for lightweight gorey action and not much more.
Spoilers from here on!
Four years after the events of Train to Busan, South Korea is an abandoned urban wasteland overrun with zombies. A group of refugees are roped into returning to the peninsula to secure a truck filled with millions in cash that is practically just sitting there, unguarded, unclaimed, ripe for the taking. Naturally, the mission goes sideways and half of the crew dies, while the other half is captured – one man by the good guys, one by the bad. Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang), our Shooty McShooterson protagonist, is taken in by a family of survivors who are desperate to flee South Korea. They help him find the truck in exchange for safe passage off the peninsula. The only problem: the truck has been stolen by a large group of former soldiers, once abandoned along with the greater infected South Korean population, who run a sadistic human vs. zobie fighting arena. After a daring rescue mission, the good guys must navigate a path filled with zombies and trigger-happy sadists, unsure if an escape off the peninsula is waiting for them at the end.
It doesn’t take long for this movie to convince you of its trashy edgy-ness. While the first scene is a flashback to the outbreak, everything after is a feast of gritty, grimey urban action. There are car chase sequences that go on for decidedly too long – we get it, you can drive backwards and do quick turns while barreling into ragdoll zombie bodies – and the fighting arena plot feels like something straight out of the middle seasons of The Walking Dead.
Train to Busan was great because seeing the characters’ relationships torn appart by gruesome deaths and their ingenious but dangerous ideas about trapping zombies were emotionally engaging while also keeping you on the edge of your seat. Peninsula, unfortunately, fails to build up any meaningful relationship and swaps out frightening tension for gratuitous blood, guts, and seriously bad dental hygene. It was gross and it kept the plot moving swiftly, but that’s about all the movie succeeded in.
Most of the characters who died remained unintroduced and the scenes that were supposed to be emotionally impactful completely fell flat because of lackluster performances and pacing. However, the two child actresses (Ye-Won Lee and Re Lee) were actually fairly impressive. Especially Ye-Won Lee really surprised me with her natural delivery and even got a chuckle out of me. The adult actors, on the other hand, did not exactly put in what I’d call a stellar performance. I’m not sure I even saw our protagonist have an emotion besides stoic determination.
One character I enjoyed watching and would have liked to see explored so much more is Captain Seo, who starts out as the borderline nihilistic and reclusive leader of the bad guys but becomes a selfish opportunist at the first glimmer of hope. He was probably the most intersting character but this movie didn’t care to show anything interesting. (But that gore tho, ey? -.-)
It’s sad that Peninsula is such a loveless sequel void of tension and emotion, with a thin plot and thinner characters. Not even the visuals and action are particularly impressive since it is so repetitive and not innovative whatsoever.
Once Peninsula is available for streaming/on DVD and you watch it dubbed, I’d say it’s fine to put on in the background while you carve a pumpkin, make chestnut-animals or do any other indoor fall activities, but even then, there’s sure to be a better film to put you in the spooky, creepy Halloween mood. Like Train to Busan.