A mishmash of politics and horror
If Train To Busan told you what a virus outbreak looks like, its sequel, Peninsula, acquaints you with what happens when the outbreak takes the form of an epidemic. Given the present scenario, the movie seems strangely resonant. Though the coronavirus hasn’t exactly turned us into zombies. We’ve only reached the couch potato stage yet. Thank god. Right now, thanks to movement restrictions, and the lockdown scenario before that, we all experienced curbs on our freedom. Governments the world over seemed more authoritative. We collectively came to realise the importance of friendships, of family. Some countries started projecting themselves as a safe haven. Survival became paramount. All these real-life issues are brought forth in one form or other in this zombie drama. Political irony has been brought in as North Korea is declared a safe haven, while the Southern counterpart is transformed into a zombie infected wasteland. But the socio-political summary remains on the surface and lacks real bite.
Director Yeon Sang-ho seems to be influenced by several Hollywood films like Escape From New York, Mad Max: Fury Road, 28 Weeks Later, Fight Club, Lord Of The Flies and many more. One can see some of the elements from the above-mentioned titles being reinvented in the movie. For example, the modified cars and the end-of-the-world scenario is straight from Fury Road. The survivors have become sadistic as hell and are just a step above being zombies themselves — Lord Of The Flies. They spend the nights scavenging for food and other useful items and spend the day indulging in a brutal sport where their prisoners are made to fight the zombies.
Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), a guilt-ridden former soldier living in the slums of Hong Kong, is offered a chance to go back to Korea to steal a truck containing 25 million US dollars. He and his crew, comprising a former female taxi driver, Jung’s brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and another man sent along as muscle. Jung refused to help a family while escorting his sister’s family to the last ship out of Korea. To his grief, infection broke out on the ship and his sister and nephew both got killed because of it. To his surprise, he finds himself rescued by the teenaged daughter, Jooni (Lee Re), of the woman Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun); he had refused to help four years earlier. Both Jooni and her younger sister Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won) are expert zombie killers and going out either to scavenge for food or just for thrills is a matter of routine for them. When Jung tells them there’s a way out, they all get ready and loaded to fight their way out of the zombie hordes. But it’s not just the zombies they have to fight. There’s a unit of rogue soldiers called unit 631 led by the sadist Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and the suicidal Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) to reckon with as well. Chul-min has been captured by them and made to participate in their ghastly games.
Peninsula differs from Train To Busan in many ways. The latter was set on a train and hence the pace was brisk. One could experience real danger as zombies not only came pouring inside the train but were also a menace outside of it. We got to know the background stories of several characters. The emotional pull was made stronger by the father-daughter angle. It seems director Yeon Sang-ho has forgotten the lessons he learnt from his debut live-action feature. The emotional core is not so strong in the sequel. What Yeon has concentrated instead is on world-building and set pieces. The dreary landscape, even though conceived through CGI, does give you the creeps because what you’re witnessing is a whole nation laid to waste by the virus. There’s a clever set-piece revolving a remote-controlled toy car, which is easily the best scene of the film. Apart from that, despite being slick and stylised, the action looks very video game-like. Again, one feels the director is catering to the gallery instead of following his own heart.
The actors too seem to be going through the motions instead of actually investing in their characters. Their expressions have an over-the-top quality to it which is in contrast with the grave nature of the film.
All-in-all, Peninsula is part political commentary and part escape movie. The director seems uncertain about taking a single direction and as a result, the film suffers. Zombie addicts will definitely take to it. The Zombie hordes seen here reminds one of World War Z, another film which director Yeon Sang-ho seemed to have liked a lot…
Trailer : Peninsula
Neil Soans, November 27, 2020, 3:47 PM IST
Peninsula Story: An ex-soldier is sent back to retrieve bags of cash from the Korean peninsula, now completely abandoned after the zombie apocalypse.
Peninsula Review: Around four years after the events of ‘Train to Busan’, South Korea has become a wasteland filled with zombies. Former Captain Jung Seok of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps is tasked with finding and retrieving a truckload of money in the quarantined zone, which will set him up for life. But when his team reach the peninsula, they encounter militants who have gone rogue. Jung Seok must fight for his life with the help of a few stray survivors.
After the breakthrough success of ‘Train to Busan’ in 2016, expectations were reasonably high for its sequel. Naturally, director and co-writer Sang-ho Yeon decided to up the stakes and dive head-on into the apocalyptic world he created. Taking obvious inspiration from various dystopian films and shows, this sequel fails to match its well-received predecessor. Set in an open world, the zombie count is substantially increased and needs to rely more heavily on CGI as a result. Unfortunately, the VFX is erratic in some places, and looks out of a video game with questionable physics, especially when involving automobiles. This is a significant aspect of the film, so your mileage may vary entirely based on your reaction to it. For many, it will probably lower the sense of terror impeccably captured in ‘Train to Busan’.
The story has some potential with interesting themes on human greed and sacrifice when all else is lost. They’re certainly more pertinent considering the prevalent scenario in the world today. Director Sang-ho Yeon is keen to explore what it takes to save a loved one under extraordinary circumstances, and the story becomes more gripping when he does. Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang) encounters a mother Min Jung (Jung- hyun Lee) and her two daughters, and their relationship is heartfelt bringing some much-needed depth to the plot. Their performances also lend to a few emotional beats that hit home. Then again, some of the scenes feel stretched out, which affects the pacing drastically. While ‘Peninsula’ has its moments including ingenious ways of dealing with zombie hordes, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a worthy sequel to ‘Train to Busan’. Instead, it’s reasonably enjoyable as a standalone action zombie flick.