Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
2020, R, 115 min. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho. Starring Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 21, 2020
In 2016, South Korean zombie juggernaut Train to Busan was an international sensation, due to its brutal use of swarms of fast zombies, a surprisingly sentimental plot, and a barnstormingly bullish performance by future Marvel Eternal and the gangster from top notch crime flick The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, Ma Dong-Seok. Director Yeon, who had cut his teeth on animation, went back to his illustrative roots with prequel Seoul Station, but goes gloriously, bloodily live-action again with Peninsula.
If the end of the original gave you even a dash of hope, forget it. After a bloody and miserable intro, loaded with Yeon's signature nihilism, the action leaps four years into a future in which Korea's geography weighs against it. Rather than destroy all the undead, the world has simply sealed it off. Upright soldier Jung-seok (Gang) was on one of the last boats out, and has washed up in Hong Kong, broke and without a future or refugee status. That's how an American gangster convinces him to head back to the mainland: Zombies don't eat gold or money, and there's an abandoned truck filled with cash in Incheon. Luckily, these walking corpses are dumb, can't see at night, and are easily distracted, so he's sent in to Von Ryan's Express that booty out by cover of night. Of course, the raid goes south, and his ragtag band finds itself at the mercy of what's left of humanity in Korea. There's deranged Sergeant Hwang (Kim), who loves the chaos and is running a sort of zombie fight club in a basement; loopy Captain Seo (Koo), who may hold the only key to leaving; and Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), who's survived with her family – no thanks to Jung-seok, with whom she has an awkward history.
Less initially mawkish than the first film and more entertainingly overblown, Peninsula keeps to the established paradigm that the living are far worse than the dead, then goes on a gonzo excursion through a wrecked city. Here there are splashes of the Yeon that excoriated South Korean society in the relentlessly bleak The King of Pigs, with Hwang indulging his deranged whims to be the king of Bartertown, er, the docks. What it lacks is a relatable emotional core. The first film at least had failed father Seok-woo trying to redeem his catastrophic parenting skills. Jung-seok is always the brooding hero, so it's hard to buy into his moral salvation – especially since Yeon and co-writer Park Joo-Suk make the stakes so obvious (if one adorable moppet wasn't enough for you, how about two?). The operatic denouement is a little soapy, but it's all about the splatter of CGI cars cartwheeling through hordes of gore-soaked ghouls.