Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula 반도 (2020) Review

Four years ago, Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan famously took the world by storm with its impressive technical know-how and timely sociopolitical allegory. Given the movie’s both critical and financial success, a sequel is inevitable. And so, that’s what most of us thought in the first place.

Instead, the director eschews a direct sequel in favour of a follow-up that takes place in the same universe. Titled as Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula for the international market (or simply known as Peninsula in South Korea), the movie opens within the same timeline of the first movie where zombie outbreak hits Korea. Jung-seok (Gang Dong-Won), who is an army captain, boards a rescue ship filled with other Korean evacuees. Let’s just say things doesn’t end up well, with Jung-seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-Yoon) manage to survive the zombie massacre inside the ship.

Fast-forward to four years later, they have since laid low in Hong Kong and make a living working for a crime boss. One night, they are assigned along with two fellow Koreans to return to the zombie-infested peninsula. Their mission: retrieve bags of money stored in a truck and have them return to Hong Kong. If they are successful, they will get their fair share of the money as a reward.

The mission, of course, doesn’t go well as planned with the group being ambushed by a militia group led by Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-Jae) and Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-Hwan). The movie also introduced a family of survivors including a single mother (Lee Jung-Hyun’s Min-jung) along with her two street-smart daughters (Lee Re’s Joon and Lee Ye-Won’s Yu-jin) and an elderly soldier (Kwon Hae-Hyo).

A scene from "Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula".

First things first, the novelty factor is gone in this Train to Busan follow-up. Whereas the first movie has a thrilling sense of claustrophobia that makes Train to Busan all the more gripping, Peninsula‘s zombie-infested city setting is nothing new. It’s something that we have seen it countless times before in most zombie or post-apocalyptic movies straight out from the Hollywood production.

The movie also armed with a bigger budget this time around, even though most of the CG-heavy scenes feel like they are lifted from a video game’s cutscene. The result has somehow lessened both of the visceral impact and gritty nature of this otherwise violent zombie movie.

Still, viewed as a standalone movie, Peninsula has a few worthwhile moments that justified its nearly two-hour running time. The elaborate Mad Max-like nighttime vehicular chase sequence through the ruined city comes to mind. The sequence may have been heavily assisted with CG but given Yeon’s animation background, he sure knows how to stage the setpiece with enough flair and entertainment value.

Then, there’s the human drama that makes this otherwise clichéd-ridden Peninsula a decent entry. Like the first movie, Yeon Sang-Ho retains the recurring themes of redemption and sacrifice. There’s a hint of xenophobia as well, even though it was only briefly teased during the Hong Kong-set sequence.

The cast equally deserves mention, beginning with Gang Dong-Won displayed a subtly restrained performance as a no-nonsense and guilt-ridden Jung-seok. Lee Jung-Hyun along with Lee Re and Lee Ye-Won each deliver solid supports with their respective mother and daughters roles. Both Kim Min-Jae and Koo Kyo-Hwan round up the ensemble cast with their above-average antagonist roles.

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