Review: 'Train to Busan' sequel 'Peninsula' flies off the rails
Courtesy of WELL-GO USA
Just recently, I had the luxury of sitting down with Yeon Sang-ho’s wild 2016 opus “Train To Busan” which felt like a refreshing, claustrophobic, thriller with zombies. It also fostered amazing talent in front of the screen and delivered the goods compared to countless walking dead flicks before it. But it also stood on its own, a hypercaffeinated junkie thrill ride that wasn’t trying to establish a franchise or milk itself for more dough. So when you hear Sang-ho was planning a sequel to his story of passengers stuck inside a train car full of flesh eating miscreants, there was some pause.
And though the earnest follow-up: “Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula” has a few signature moments that get the blood pumping, nothing comes remotely close to what “Busan” accomplished.
With a bigger budget and wider lens, but a less fulfilling narrative, “Peninsula” is exactly the type of zombie flick that “Busan” was trying to combat: a movie filled with hordes of CGI zombies that plays more like a quick game of “Left for Dead” or a knockoff of “World War Z” than an inspired sequel. What’s worse is the majority of the film is caked in darkness, so even when the action heats-up, Sang-ho barley lets the audience see what’s happening. Each decision feels like a major step backwards from the world he created in 2016.
The film takes place four years after “Busan,” when the virus was just beginning its spread across South Korea. Now there’s little left of the country that’s been abandoned and quarantined, except the undead and some innovative humans doing their best to survive. But there was plenty of money left behind in the shadows, including an armored truck that sits on the freeway packed with over $20 million. Considering zombies don’t need the cash flow, a group of criminals stationed in Hong Kong - where many refugees ended up after the events of “Busan” - plot an expedition to loot the truck and come back rich.
Leading the charge is Jung Seok (Gang Ding-won) a former marine captain who - in a harrowing pre title sequence - is still traumatized from leaving a desperate family on the side of the road in his attempt to flee the country amid the outbreak. Assisting him is his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), a man equally tormented as he lost his wife and son while the infection spread on a ship evacuating healthy folk to Hong Kong. It’s a brutal and heart wrenching opening scene and continues to suggest that Sang-ho is the best when it comes to keeping things confined to one location.
But in “Peninsula” zombies are no longer the primary enemy and Seok didn’t plan for armies of South Korean soldiers, scavenging the streets for supplies and weapons, to throw a wrench in their plans. The gang is called Unit 361, led by Capt. Seo (Koo Gyo-hwyan) and Sgt. Hwang (Kim Min-Jae), and the zombies take a back seat to this squad of not so compelling bad guys. Remember in “Busan” when zombies were the scariest component? Good times.
Eventually, Seok’s group becomes separated and Chul-min becomes a pawn in a sick game for Unit 361: he gets thrown in a ring, “Mad Max” style, and has to brawl and battle his way around zombies for sport, fending of hordes of ravish flesh eaters for two minutes before returning to safety.
The pacing and camera work in those scenes are fluid and reminds audiences why they signed on for “Train To Busan” in the first place. But too often, “Peninsula” lacks an emotional core (the father-daughter relationship was a major driving force in the previous entry) and the minor snippets of suspense that do exist, never justifies a lousy sequel that can’t keep its head on straight.
TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA lands in theaters and VOD Friday August 21st.