Director Yeon Sang-ho returns to the world of Train to Busan with Peninsula, the sequel to 2016’s surprise Cannes hit. Peninsula was initially set for a Cannes 2020 premiere, however due to current circumstances, it’s now becoming available at your finger tips much sooner. Set in the same world, but not a direct sequel with the same characters of the previous film, Sang-ho brings his enthralling style and emotional touch to this worthy follow up.
Four years after South Korea’s outbreak, zombies still roam the land and Busan is no longer safe. The Peninsula is perhaps the last standing place to go. Jung Seok (Gang Dong-Won) is a soldier who escaped the zombie-infested wasteland years prior. He is assigned on an operation to return, find a truck, and retrieve the goods within. When the operation goes south as zombies begin to swarm, their lives become in jeopardy. Luckily, Jung Seok is saved by a family, led by Min Jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and her daughters.
Yeon Sang-ho re-teams with ace cinematographer Lee Hyung-deok, delivering engrossing, captivating, and colorful images of carnage-filled action. While the film mostly succeeds in its elements, it also has its faults. Periodically, the film sways into Hollywood English-speaking archetypes in the first and second act. Perhaps the international success of Train to Busan forced a need to intertwine American ideals? Both films are very much so a different type of zombie piece that oppose Hollywood cliches, yet Peninsula does fall victim to such cliches unlike Train to Busan. Though just like the 2016 film, it’s the family aspect that works incredibly well.
Thankfully, the family take up a large chunk of the film, but whenever they weren’t on screen, I was yearning for them to return. Simply put, the stylistic thrills and emotional beats overcome the unwelcome Americanized cliches of Peninsula. Sang-yo’s directorial approach continues to invigorate the genre while staying coherent, even in the most chaotic of times. There’s always a sense of control in the clear direction and cinematography. Lit largely with beautiful yellows and atmospheric blues, the visual palette of the film is pleasing to the eyes and is clearly one of the definitive reasons why Peninsula works.
Lee Jung-hyun and Gang Dong-Won are first-rate, delivering a mixture of poignancy and top-class fear as they fully engage in the chaos. Sang-ho balances the relentless nature of the story’s thrills with the family’s more compassionate, emphatic side. The affinity felt reminds of Train to Busan‘s brilliant character building of the father, daughter, and pregnant mother. You are made to care, there are stakes, but only for the family.
Less horror and more adventurism, Peninsula is less horrifying than Train to Busan. The lack of confinement and expansion of the world create less of an overall effect than the relentless zombie-filled train ride that came before. Nevertheless, the film remains a compelling adrenaline ride that taps into the best and worst of human nature. Questioning, what would you do in such dire times?