Set four years after the events of 2016’s Train to Busan where a zombie apocalypse wipes out South Korea, Peninsula tells the story of a soldier who returns to the Korean peninsula wasteland to retrieve a large stash of money left in the back of a truck from a previous failed retrieval mission. While Peninsular boasts larger scale action and a more expanded world than its predecessor, it lacks the human spirit of the first movie that makes this journey a two-dimensional and cringeworthy experience by comparison. Throw in some terrible CGI and a hero who doesn’t really do much and you’re left wondering why writer/director Sang-ho Yeon (Train to Busan, The Fake) thought this would be a worthy follow up to his highly enjoyable original.
The introduction to Peninsula (full name Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, much like last year’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) is the best part of the whole film, but also gives a false sense of what to expect for the rest of the story. Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang) is a soldier who drives his sister (So-yeon Jang), her husband Chul-min (Do-Yoon Kim) and his nephew (Moon Woo-Jin) to a ship leaving South Korea in order to escape the zombie apocalypse sweeping across the country. So desperate and fearful for the lives of his own family, Jung Seok ignores the dire pleas for help from others – who he could rescue – to ensure getting his family to the ship safely. Unfortunately, an infected person makes it on board the ship and Jung Seok can only watch helplessly with his brother-in-law Chul-min as his sister and nephew die.
Four years later in Hong Kong, Jung Seok and Chul-min are offered an opportunity to make some real money that can get them out of the poor lifestyle they now find themselves in. A truck is carrying $20 million cash back in the quarantined peninsula and all they have to do is go back as part of a small team, find the truck, retrieve the money, avoid being killed by the zombies and become rich so they can start new lives. Sounds simple, right? There are things even more dangerous than zombies to worry about when they return to the ravaged wasteland.
A militia group called Unit 631 attack any outsiders who dare venture into their area of dominion and when they capture Chul-min, along with the truck full of money and the satellite phones required to return to Hong Kong, Jung Seok must team up with local survivors Min-Jung (Jung-hyun Lee), her daughters Jooni (Re Lee) and Yu-jin (Ye-Won Lee) and their grandfather Old Man Kim (Hae-hyo Kwon) in order to get out of the peninsula alive.
With zombie apocalypse movies, I don’t go in with high expectations with regard to acting. As mentioned before, the introduction to Peninsula has a great setup and some emotional performances surrounding very stressful and emotional circumstances. But once we get past the first 10 minutes and the story focuses on the mission of retrieving the money, the acting quickly becomes wooden and farcical to the point you feel like a different writer and director took over from the 10 minute mark.
Dong-Won Gang is particularly wooden and painful to watch as he doesn’t really contribute much, other than kill zombies in between following what everyone around him is telling him to do. I understand the character of Jung Seok is supposed to be traumatized from the events of the introduction. However, he shouldn’t be so traumatized to the point where he’s incapable of making any major contribution to the plot points. For the most part he just looks confused in between sequences of him kicking ass when he’s supposed to be the hero and the central focus of the story. Why are we following him?
An additional cringeworthy note is Re Lee who plays the eldest daughter Jooni, and is also a wheelman extraordinaire. Raised in the Korean peninsula wasteland her character has mastered getting supernatural performance from the family car she drives that doubles as a zombie killing weapon. Her most standout ability is never changing her facial expression while zipping through narrow streets like a character from the Fast & Furious franchise while simultaneously annihilating hordes of zombies with her modern car that never shows damage after ramming her 200th zombie. I know I know, she’s supposed to be so badass that driving like a maniac and facing zombies in mass numbers doesn’t phase her. It still looks stupid.
It’s hard to believe the same person wrote and directed Train to Busan and this woeful sequel. Sang-ho Yeon seems to have lost touch with the humanity and simplicity of Train to Busan by relying more on action and trying to create a world like Mad Max – only minus the budget and nihilistic edge. There is a touch of this humanity in the introduction sequence but it’s quickly forgotten when it becomes a money heist mixed with Waterworld on land. The story is so absurd and the dialogue so unnatural that I feel it would be an impossible task for any actor to salvage this – so I’m probably being a bit harsh with my comments on the acting.
What makes this movie even more painful are the moments where Sang-ho Yeon tries to throw in some climactic and heartfelt scenes, like when Min-Jung offers herself to the zombie horde to save her daughters. Just like the absurd vibe of the overall film, these moments are dragged out and so over-heightened to such ridiculous levels that you can’t take them seriously. I found myself just looking at the time and wondering when it was going to end. Please just hurry up and get eaten by the zombies so I can watch something else.
Peninsula is poor, unfocused follow up to Train to Busan and it’s such a pity because the first film was done so well. I really hoped we would get the same fun, raw survival vibes that made Sang-ho Yeon’s take on the zombie genre so unique and entertaining, but that isn’t the case with this scattershot sequel. Instead we’re given something that feels like it’s trying too hard to be a Hollywood blockbuster, minus the Hollywood budget. At least the zombies looked good. You almost want to root for them.