I was pretty fixed in my mind that nothing would top Train to Busan. And nothing almost did – but Peninsula comes quite close.
We’ve gotten off the train and moved forward in time, years past the collapse of the whole of South Korea, to its current apocalyptic state. Violence and selfishness reign supreme in the crumblings of an out-of-control pandemic. This movie couldn’t have been timed better.
None of the cast from the first movie have returned, so we follow new characters: marine captain Jung-Seok (Gang Dong-won) and his brother-in-law Chul-Min (Kim Do-yoon), slumming it in an even-more-eclectic Hong Kong, which lends itself to shady (duh) Americans and unexpected English-speaking scenes. The portly Yank has a proposition for them: collect a truck stuffed with cash from the peninsula, and they get to keep half. Things, of course, go as swimmingly as you might expect.
Peninsula keeps the frenetic action pace from Train to Busan, only now we’ve got sprawling set-pieces in which to show off bloody brilliant camera-angles and slow-mo, including a white-knuckle tournament-style fight in a flooded shopping mall and a wicked car chase. There are human antagonists, but the zombies are still a very real threat, and they – either singly or en masse – make for some genuinely terrifying moments.
This being an action-horror like the first, there isn’t much time for character development, but everybody does great work with what they’re given, including the two kids, who are both cute comic relief and heartstring-pullers (where are they finding these child actresses?). And, in true k-film fashion, the final sequence is so soul-destroying I think my black heart just atrophied.
I can see why it might not been as well-received as the first – its train setting makes for a tighter, capsule-like story, whereas Peninsula‘s proceedings follow several different characters in different locations – and its villain is just slightly too camp to be truly threatening. And it just doesn’t have the heart and warmth of the characters of the first movie. But it’s a tense, violent, fun ride nonetheless, even if it has less brains.