Peninsula Movie Review: An average follow-up that fails to live up to its predecessor
Despite being a standalone sequel, Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula fails to re-create the effect Train to Busan had
It’s hard not to compare Peninsula to Train to Busan, even though this film is a standalone follow-up to the latter. After all, standalone sequels find themselves in the same milieu, with overall events relating to the original story in one way or the other. Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula may have enough in it to engage an audience thriving on the zombie apocalypse trope, but it isn’t in the same league as his preceding feature set in the said universe.
Director – Yeon Sang-ho
Cast – Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re
Train to Busan captured the sheer claustrophobia associated with an undead horde (stricken by an unknown virus) advancing towards the living – in a closed space such as a train, to boot. The pacing and the intrigue were exceedingly good too. What set the original apart were the deep and conflicted moments of emotion surrounding family, all witnessed as they fight off a progressing army baying for their blood one train coach at a time. Yeon Sang-ho, through complex relationships, is able to shine a light on all that’s at stake for these people.
With Peninsula, though, you get a feeling he misses a trick. Since focus has now shifted to an open Korean landmass full of abandoned cars and decaying architecture (where the zombies are kept isolated from the rest of the continent), the claustrophobia from Train to Busan goes right out the window. A speeding train to literally no safe haven and coaches overflowing with approaching zombies, is a premise that works better at building tension. Secondly, this story moves track from the zombies to a large extent. Yes, they are present on the peninsula, no doubt, but so is a rogue armed group and a four member-family. And everyone seems to be fighting everyone. So, the zombies aren’t the only concern, apparently.
A badly-framed narrative involving two brothers-in-law and two strangers (refugees now living in Hong Kong after the events of the first film) forms the basis of Peninsula. The foursome is contracted to retrieve a truck filled with millions of American dollars stuck somewhere on the zombie-infested landmass. Get dropped off, locate the vehicle, drive it to the port, and get picked up. And, oh yes, don’t get killed. That’s about the gist of it. A successful operation means millions in cash for each member.
There are flashes of emotional intensity in Yeon Sang-ho’s follow-up that evoke glimpses of the original. Like a solitary scene between the refugee brothers-in-law as they are treated in a sub-human manner by patrons from a small, outdoor eatery in their adopted city. They are jeered, abused, and told to leave. "What if they are infected? Why don’t they go back to the place they came from? They don’t belong here." The allusions to class war and prejudice which shone through in the predecessor come to the fore in this short, almost-insignificant scene.
But such moments of depth are few and far between. There is too much convoluted action taking place in the midst of the hodgepodge storylines for one to focus on anything remotely real going on between the characters. It is also quite surprising that the zombies haven’t evolved despite the considerable passage of time.
The complicated past between the brothers-in-law had the potential to carry on the legacy of Train to Busan’s exploration of fractured human bonds through a crisis, but Peninsula fails to take it forward. Instead, adding more action to the mix appears to be the formula they settled on. If viewed from the lens of an independent story, it does okay — at least as far as the action and cinematography go. What it doesn’t do, is set itself apart. After all, how many zombie apocalypse films have there been thus far? What does Peninsula bring to an already-overcrowded genre? I would have ideally liked to see the progression of the original story. Where are Su-an (Seok-woo’s young daughter) and the then pregnant Seong-kyeong now? Peninsula lacks the kind of character development Train to Busan excelled at. Despite being watchable every now and then, Yeon Sang-ho fails to infuse enough in his standalone sequel to render it sustainable.