Peninsula (반도), the 2020 sequel to worldwide hit Train to Busan, is an adrenaline rush of an action film. But fans of the predecessor may want to set aside any expectations about this film. Peninsula is a very different movie, yet enjoyable enough in its own right.
Set four years after the initial zombie outbreak, the entire Korean peninsula has been quarantined and closed off from the rest of the world. Though some people were able to escape Korea, those left behind must fend for themselves in what becomes a desolate and lawless apocalyptic landscape riddled with the infected.
Marine captain Jung Seok (Gang Dong Won) has since settled in as a refugee in Hong Kong along with brother-in-law Chul Min (Kim Do Yoon) after his sister and nephew were infected on the evacuee ship when the original safe haven of Busan had become overrun as well. Struggling to get by and ridden with guilt over the loss of their loved ones, Jung Seok and Chul Min are recruited by Chinese mobsters for a mission to retrieve a food truck with millions of dollars in cash abandoned in Korea.
They are accompanied by two fellow Koreans and are essentially smuggled back into Korea via Incheon Port in the dark of night. Though they easily find the money-filled truck, a rogue militia targets them and draws the zombies out of the shadows to them. What had been a seemingly easy mission turns into a fight for survival.
Jung Seok is lucky enough to be saved by a family of survivors; mother Min Jung (Lee Jung Hyun), teen with Fast & Furious skills Joon Yi (Lee Re), little sister Yoo Jin (Lee Ye Won) and grandfather Mr. Kim (Kwon Hae Hyo). And together, they work to find a way off of the zombie-ridden peninsula needing to take on the hordes of infected and the violent militia gang.
While Train to Busan could perhaps be seen as a more emotional and introspective thriller that mixes zombie action with character-driven discussion about humanity and society, Peninsula goes for pure summer blockbuster extravaganza. And with plenty of bloodlust to boot.
Peninsula is more of a shared universe-type of film rather than a direct sequel with no connection to the predecessor other than it happening in the same world years later.
That difference in narrative, style and tone may be jarring for fans of Train to Busan. But it really is best to come into Peninsula knowing that fact.
Peninsula lacks a lot of the depth of Train to Busan. It is not the same type of character-driven thrills like its predecessor. Instead, Peninsula focuses more on its extravagant (though heavily-CGI) action sequences, car chases and of course, the usual zombie shenanigans. There are plenty of exciting zombie battles and a lot of human-on-human battles as well. At times, the film takes on the aura of being a gangster heist. But Peninsula does do an interestingly effective job of injecting humor into all those same scenes.
Nonetheless, the final minutes of the film give a glimpse of what made Train to Busan so appealing and engaging for many audiences. And it results in a thoroughly satisfying and emotional climax to the film. In fact, it might be a little jarring within the film itself. But it works, regardless. And for many who may come into Peninsula with its predecessor in mind, the final act may reassure them and perhaps justify the film’s very existence.
The film’s biggest positive is its cast. Gang Dong Won is an experienced leading man and he carries much of the film on his shoulders. He plays the charismatic hero well and delivers when he needs to. Lee Jung Hyun and young Lee Re provide the film with some badassery. Neither have any problem keeping up with Gang Dong Won in the film’s many action sequences. And little Lee Ye Won is a scene stealer as the equally badass young tech wiz. Koo Kyo Hwan also deserves a special mention as an equally eye-catching scene stealer Captain Seo, a leader of the militia.
Overall, it may be obvious what Peninsula‘s goal is as a sequel to Train to Busan. Cashing in on the success of its predecessor is a no-brainer. And building a world within the Train to Busan universe to allow Peninsula to fit in is a natural decision. But Peninsula is very different, yet very much stands on its own. Legitimately exciting, though maybe superficially so, the ending makes Peninsula a worthwhile adventure.