Synopsis – The sequel to the 2016 South Korean zombie film Train to Busan (2016).
My Take – Director Sang-ho Yeon‘s 2016 film, Train To Busan, a mercilessly high-concept knockout about a random group of people who find themselves trapped on a speeding train with a rapidly spreading zombie virus, arrived at a time when the zombie genre was well over-exhausted, and managed to surprise everyone.
Though at first look the South Korean production didn’t seem to be breaking any molds of the genre, but it’s addition of smart social commentary and emotional moments with every character having their own set of agency, turned the enjoyable action horror into a worldwide sensational hit for all the right reasons.
Naturally, after the success of the first film, any returning filmmaker would want to expand on that world they created, and here director Sang-ho Yeon introduces us more characters, more locations, and a wider scope than the original film. It is also one of those rare sequels that takes place in the same world that was previously established, yet without including any of the surviving characters from the last film.
However, what’s most curious about the follow up is how it is more focused on the setting as opposed to its characters, and also forsakes the social allegory in favor of eye-popping action sequences. And by doing so it manages to sacrifice the predecessor’s earnest sensibilities, loose its sense of immediacy and stand out deep emotions.
Nevertheless, despite all that, I can’t deny how it dazzlingly entertains us for 116 minutes. The film boasts some solid action scenes, a solid set of core characters and screenwriters Joo-Suk Park and Sang-ho Yeon deserve praise for not letting expectations confine where their story decided to venture. With the same keen eye for plot structure and pacing the creative duo, with Sang-ho Yeon directing, deliver a white-knuckle adventure film that is a little bit more playful in tone to its precursor.
Set four years after the incident on Train to Busan, the story follows Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), a former Marine Captain, who after being forced to abandon his sister and nephew in order to escape a hoard of zombie infected, much to the chagrin of his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), is now living in Hong Kong as an undocumented refugee, still struggling with guilt. However, he sees an opportunity to earn redemption in the eyes of Chul-min, when they both along with two others are recruited by a local gangster to sneak into the now quarantined Korean peninsula to recover a truck containing $20 million dollars, and earn half of the finding.
While the group is covertly dropped off near the port of Incheon, Jung-seok and the group find out that the zombies are the least of their worries in the now crumbling wasteland, as they are soon ambushed by rogue militia Unit 631, led by Sergeant first class Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan). However, to Jung-seok’s luck he is saved by Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), young daughters of a survivor Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), who agrees to help Jung-seok complete his mission provided he helps them escape the peninsula.
Like I mentioned above, yes, the novelty factor is gone in this follow-up. Whereas the first film has a thrilling sense of claustrophobia that made Train to Busan all the more gripping, the sequel‘s zombie-infested city setting is nothing new, but it seems content to do its own thing, and it does that exceedingly well.
Having established his multi-tiered narrative, director Sang-ho Yeon goes absolutely wild with it, throwing a host of antagonists and potential allies at Jung-seok. And like so many other post-apocalyptic thrillers, the film once again proposes that humans and the deeply selfish lengths they’ll go to for their own personal survival actually post the greatest threat to other humans in such a scenario; indeed, the hordes of zombies are almost incidental to Jung-seok’s battle against the brutal men of Unit 631.
However the film’s greatest strength is director Sang-ho Yeon and his ability to whirl his camera around deliriously while still making sure the action is coherent and thrilling. And he does so while tipping his blood-encrusted cap to Escape From New York, Day Of The Dead, and the Mad Max sequels, all stitched together to create a new, surprising thing.
He adds in little details to make his undead stand out, for example, here, the zombies can’t see as well without light. There are also few interesting set pieces – one that takes place during a gladiator-style game where captive survivors are forced to try to escape a zombie horde, and another during the climax that is very reminiscent of many of the chase sequences in Mad Max: Fury Road. The sequence may have been heavily assisted with CG but given director Sang-ho Yeon’s animation background, he sure knows how to stage the set piece with enough flair and entertainment value.
However, unlike Train to Busan, which quickly and effectively provided audiences characters to cheer for, so that when the full brute force of the outbreak comes into play, we care for the outcome. None of these characters here have the sticking power of the original film’s characters and it is hard to be emotionally invested in the majority of the people populating the peninsula this time around. J
ung-seok is by far the most engaging; driven by guilt over his inability to save his family, and sees his chance for redemption. And, as a former Marine Captain, he has an unrivaled talent for ass-kicking. When he isn’t on screen, the film is vastly less interesting. But it’s never dull, even without that sense of empathy. The young girls especially are capable of taking care of themselves, and how they get out of certain situations is entertaining.
The performances of the cast are alright, with Gang Dong-Won displaying a subtly restrained performance while Lee Jung-Hyun, Kim Do-yoon, along with Lee Re and Lee Ye-Won each providing solid support. Kim Min-jae and Koo Kyo-hwan are also good in their above-average antagonist roles. On the whole, ‘Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula’ is a fun enough post-apocalyptic zombie action film despite not reaching the heights of its predecessor.
Directed – Sang-ho Yeon
Rated – NR
Run Time – 116 minutes