When Train to Busan pulled up on the horror scene in 2016 I was totally blown away. Writing it off as just another modern zombie movie my low expectations were steam-rolled away by the brutality and brilliance of Yeon Sang-ho’s film which packed a huge emotional and visceral punch and totally revitalised an ever decaying genre.
2020 sees Yeon Sang-ho pull in at the final stop while pulling out all the stops with Peninsula aka Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula aka Train to Busan 2 which is seen as either a sequel or the end of a trilogy, depending if you count the animated prequel Seoul Station which came out the same year as the original.
Firstly and this is a big one, there are no trains in Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula. There are boats, cars, trucks even helicopters but there are absolutely positively no trains and this is actually a very good thing.
With Train To Busan being one of the most successful Korean films ever made the hype on this horror sequel is huge but rather than rehashing the same tired tracks Yeon Sang-ho and co-writer Ryu Yong-jae have taken the film in a totally new and insane direction.
With a far bigger budget and an all-star ensemble cast of some of Asia’s finest acting talent the scope and the imagination on display in Peninsula is off the chart, superbly building on the first film and fleshing out the undead world that has now come to be.
Taking place four years after South Korea’s total destruction in Train To Busan the whole world is now aware of the outbreak and the country is totally quarantined with the homeless and penniless Korean refuge’s treated like lepers by the natives of whichever country they have ended up in.
One such survivor is guilt ridden ex-soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) who lives in Hong Kong with his brother in-law Chul-min (Do-Yoon Kim) after the pair fled the infected area in a traumatic journey which resulted in the painful death of his sister and nephew. Scrounging out a living the distant duo are offered a golden opportunity from a local gang who have information on an abandoned food truck which contains 20 million dollars.
The perilous problem is the truck is somewhere in the quarantined peninsula, a zombie ridden wasteland that no one dares set foot in unless they are desperate. Going with two others the men head back to the menacing metropolis with the simple plan to grab the bag and get out as quickly as possible.
However the unlikely team stumble over all sorts of unexpected and disturbing developments in their homeland from huge gangs of flesh eating fiends to a sadistic rampaging rogue militia unit to some plucky young survivors still living in the post-apocalyptic city. Soon the money becomes meaningless and the fight for survival is all.
Although the story and influences for the film may be less ingenious, the creativity is most definitely on display in the progression of the zombie plague which has now become a global phenomenon and credit is due to Peninsula for taking its story far further than many other follow ups would ever have done.
The most glaring difference in Peninsula is its pandering to Western audiences seen straight away in the American news reports that catch up the uninitiated audience on the events of the earlier film and continuing in the use of English dialogue and English speaking characters.
Being generous this could be seen as a shifting in Peninsula’s focus, plot and themes from something local to a more international perspective and this is definitely evident in the deplorable treatment of the two main characters at the start which is depressingly and directly reminiscent of the prejudice the Chinese community has suffered during COVID.
That said there is a much more Hollywood style saccharine slant to the story line and script and its easy to feel railroaded by the sentimentality and over blown emotion of this films finale which nearly derails the wonderfully poignant and poetic final moments of the original movie.
Negativity aside Peninsula is a stunning spectacle, part Fast and Furious part Mad Max and all undead action with some truly epic and breathtaking set pieces. From the Carmageddon alike road rage race Jung-seok gets taken on to the Dead Rising style shopping mall Unit 631 have made into a batshit crazy base, we are taken for a high octane ride through the devastated highways, partially destroyed ports and torn up tower blocks thanks to over 250 VFX artists very hard work.
Comparing Train To Busan to Peninsula is much like comparing Alien to Aliens with both being about the same subject but functioning on very different levels to engage and thrill their audience. Bigger, louder and on a far larger scale where there was terrifying tension and true drama we now have visceral visuals and stupendous stunts.
In conclusion Peninsula may not change the landscape of zombie movies like its predecessor did but its a fantastic fear filled joy ride and there is nothing wrong with that.
Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula out today on digital (Nov 23) and on DVD, Blu-ray & SteelBook from Nov 30