Studio: Well Go USA
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writer: Sang-ho Yeon, Joo-suk Park
Producer: Dong-ha Lee
Stars: Dong-won Gang, Jung-hyun Lee, Re Lee, Hae-hyo Kwon, Min-jae Kim, Kyo-hwan Koo, Do-yoon Kim, Ye-won Lee
A chaotic criminal heist causes several factions of ragtag survivors to collide in zombie-infested Korea.
What do horror movies and real estate have in common? Location, location, location.
Unlike real estate, location doesn¡¯t occupy all three top spots in terms of what¡¯s most important for fright films. But it certainly slides into one of them. ¡°A Nightmare on Elm Street¡± wouldn¡¯t have the same ring to it if the story took place on West Ypsilanti Boulevard. A similarly synonymous sentiment goes for ¡°The Amityville Horror.¡± You can¡¯t rip a series from its roots and relocate it someplace that changes the synergy of the setup. That¡¯d be like taking a premise entrenched in New England, transplanting it several states south, and calling the sequel something laughable like ¡°The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia¡± (review here).
Specifically consider the zombie subgenre. Would ¡°Dead Snow¡± (review here) still be ¡°Dead Snow¡± if it were set in a desert? Can you picture ¡°Dawn of the Dead¡± taking place anywhere other than a shopping mall? What would a ¡°Train to Busan¡± sequel look like if it didn¡¯t even feature a train?
The peculiarly titled ¡°Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula¡± addresses that last query. What happens when you uncouple the train from Busan and abandon all of the gripping emotional drama along with it? You get a derivative VFX spectacle that¡¯s only one Leon Kennedy cameo shy of looking like a ¡°Resident Evil¡± video game cutscene.
It¡¯s been four years since the first film¡¯s outbreak and Korea has already melted into a Mad Max meets ¡°Escape from New York¡± wasteland. Scrappy survivors subsist in squalor, scavenging for supplies such as batteries and ramen like they¡¯ve been in a post-nuclear dystopia for decades. Mean military men form rogue militias, turning commercial complexes into makeshift compounds where captive prisoners forcibly fight zombies for gladiator-style entertainment. In effect, ¡°Peninsula¡± looks like every other collapsed society after an undead apocalypse, only these barbaric factions got there in filmdom¡¯s fastest time.
Why would anyone who escaped return to this hellscape willingly? Cash, of course, which apparently hasn¡¯t lost its value despite a presumably tanked economy. Jung-seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min live like outcasts in Hong Kong because they came from Korea. So when a crime boss, who I assume is American to explain why some scenes are spoken in awkward English, promises to make the men millionaires if they retrieve an abandoned money truck, Jung-seok and Chul-min see the heist as their opportunity to rebuild a better life.
Except their crew isn¡¯t exactly Ocean¡¯s 11. They¡¯re not even Ocean¡¯s Two. Jung-seok and Chul-min get paired with an old lady cab driver and a hapless dude vaguely describable as a scatterbrained stoner if only he had that much personality. These accomplices get dispatched in short order. Chul-min ends up kidnapped by some sadistic ex-soldiers. Jung-seok lucks out being rescued by a teenager with Vin Diesel¡¯s wheelman superpowers and her serendipitously resourceful kid sister.
Who are these two girls? As chance would have it, or maybe I should say ¡°As the contrived script would have it,¡± they¡¯re the daughters of a desperate mother Jung-seok ignored on the side of the road while escaping the outbreak four years ago. Looks like Jung-seok¡¯s path to a fresh start doubles as a road to redemption. All he has to do is recover the money, rescue his brother-in-law, keep the kids and their family safe, and topple a pseudo-syndicate of renegade criminals in two separate countries. No wonder ¡°Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula¡± plays like a ¡°Fast and the Furious¡± movie. This sounds like a job only The Rock could handle.
Maybe I shouldn¡¯t have said earlier that ¡°Peninsula¡± abandons ¡°Train to Busan¡¯s¡± wrenching character drama. ¡°Peninsula¡± puts forth some effort to replicate it. Thematic throughlines obviously exist in Jung-seok¡¯s prior history with the mother and also his contentious relationship with Chul-min, who blames Jung-seok for what happened to their own family when they became refugees. We also get some sympathetic setups from the kooky grandfather to the two girls as well as a disabled private who dutifully maintains order for a despondent captain in charge of the lawless vigilante camp.
But whenever development doesn¡¯t feel heavy handed, it only comes off as cursory. Every arc ends exactly as anyone can predict after seven decades of redundant zombie fiction. And the minor amount of time spent dealing with personal problems results in undercooked character connections that ring hollow where ¡°Train to Busan¡¯s¡± were resonant.
Audiences don¡¯t have opportunities to invest emotionally when most of the minutes are spent watching vehicles repeatedly crash into meat mass blobs anyway. ¡°Peninsula¡¯s¡± obsession with engineering over-the-top action at the expense of emotional exploration turns out a movie that primarily appeals to people who like seeing computer-generated cars do digital stunts. Visually speaking, ¡°Peninsula¡± puts on a great looking show, which is how it wins the bulk of its score. But those visuals are predominantly packed with CGI trucks sparking, spinning, and slamming into software-rendered monsters. There¡¯s a lot happening. But it¡¯s all a bunch of pixels, not human beings, flashing frantically across a screen.
What makes the ¡°Train to Busan¡± franchise unique from countless other zombie properties? Maybe it doesn¡¯t have to be the train. But it has to be something more than what ¡°Peninsula¡± brings. Slick though it may seem, ¡°Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula¡± mostly glances off your eyeballs instead of sinking into the brain behind them.
One of these days, someone may finally make an apocalyptic movie where segmented survivors aren¡¯t each other¡¯s enemies for the umpteenth time and instead team up to take on an undead threat together. That would be a uniquely bold vision for zombie horror, wouldn¡¯t it?
Review Score: 60