Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula
"While the addition of more bad guys offers additional scope for action sequences, the characters aren’t given enough time for development."

Bigger so often doesn't mean better and so it is with Yeon Sang-ho's sequel to his Korean zombie hit Train To Busan. Where the first made a virtue of the confines of its train setting to amp up the tension, establish its characters and get us up close and personal with just enough of the undead, the sequel broadens out to a city-wide scenario and a whole lot more zombies - with the law of diminishing returns applying.

This shares more in common with Apocalypse films like Mad Max: Fury Road and I Am Legend than it does with its prequel, which is a shame. Nevertheless things begin at a pace, setting the scene with our soon-to-be hero Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) escaping South Korea on a boat that, in an enjoyable potted retread of the train scenario, has a zombie on board that wreaks havoc, kills his loved ones and leaves him with survivor's guilt. By the time the film has ended, you can’t but help wonder if he would have got more emotional mileage from sticking with this scenario – maybe another time.

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Instead, we fast-forward four years, as Jung-seok finds he and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), who also escaped with this life, heading back to the, now completely locked down South Korea danger zone in a bid to 'liberate' a truckload of cash. There’s quite a bit of set-up involved with this and, presumably in a bid to make things more palatable for the anticipated worldwide audience, much of it happens in English. This turns out to be a bad move, firstly because it’s weird that English would be the language of choice in the scenario but, more importantly, because the actors don’t have the chops for it.

Still, things get properly moving once the pair are back on the peninsula, with the action hitting full throttle as they and their team find themselves up against not just brain-eaters but also human survivors who, as tradition has it in these films, are even worse than the zombies. Trouble is, the undead are so much less fun when they're just a faceless horde, than when they are allowed to take on a bit more personality, and here they end up being little more than cannon fodder. There's a solid serving of action sequences and chase scenes, particularly once Jung-seok teams up with a survivor mum (Min Jung) and her two feisty daughters Jooni (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won) - with some fun with remote control cars feeling innovative and fresh among the more derivative elements of the film, leaving you, again, wishing the director had stuck with more intimate scenarios.

Among the less successful elements is a subplot involving his Chul-min becoming embroiled in a sort of sub-Running Man/Hunger Games scenario as zombie-fodder sport for a group of survivors known as Unit 631, run by Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan). While the addition of more bad guys offers additional scope for action sequences, the characters aren’t given enough time for development. This is a problem throughout, with the wider environs of the city offering plenty of opportunity for action but ultimately leading a more sprawling feel, meaning there's a video game vibe to a lot of this rather than the emotional heft of the original.

In a bid to redress the balance, perhaps, the director leans heavily into melodrama towards the end in ways that those who've come for the killing will doubtless find a bit much. It's a pity Yeon didn’t mirror the zombies' appetites and aim more for our brains than our guts.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2020
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Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula packshot
Four years after a zombie outbreak in Korea, a former soldier who escaped goes back for a truckload of cash.

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Writer: Yeon Sang-ho, Ryu Yong-jae

Starring: Gang Dong-Won, Lee Jung-hyun, Re Lee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-Jae, Koo Gyo-hwan, Kim Do-Yoon

Year: 2020

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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