Peninsula (2020) – action/horror/thriller – Sang-ho Yeon – South Korea – 116 minutes – watch here
Was there any doubt that Peninsula, long-awaited sequel to Train to Busan (2016), would be anything short than a great film? Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon – who, aside from having been in charge of Train to Busan, made the excellent animated horror films King of Pigs (2011), Saibi (2013) and Seoul Station (2016) – Peninsula had all the right ingredients to be one of those rare cases of good sequels.
With a bigger budget than its predecessor, as well as a lot of pressure on the director’s shoulders, Peninsula tried to go big: instead of a contained, claustrophobic story, this film went for a more epic, grandiose approach. Which, unfortunately and in hindsight, was not the best idea.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Peninsula (2020)
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The plot and characters of Peninsula
Four years after the zombie outbreak depicted in Train to Busan, the Korean peninsula is devastated and Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang), a former soldier who has managed to escape overseas, is given the mission to go back to retrieve an abandoned food truck which contains bags of cash totaling US$20 million. While trying to accomplish his mission, Jung Seok finds himself in the middle of zombie hordes, a few unexpected survivors and the rogue militia Unit 631, which is structured like a Mad Max community.
This is a very simplified and short description of the plot, as Peninsula has a lot going on for itself. The same can be said for the characters: this movie features a lot of protagonists. Probably too many, as the lack of character development is one of the main issues with this sequel. Compared to the countless emotional scenes in Train to Busan, built around compelling, flawed and layered characters, Peninsula has to rely on cheesy music to imply a sense of care that isn’t there. Every character in this film is either underdeveloped or extremely cliched, therefore when something happens to them the viewer can only feel a mild sense of urgency. On top of that, the acting is all-around subpar, especially when characters speak in English as though they learned their lines phonetically and have no idea about what they’re saying.
A (messy) mix of everything
Just like its overabundance of characters harms the emotional impact of the film, the combination of different tones causes the story to be extremely messy and confusing. One of the main strengths of Korean cinema is the ability to combine different genres and tones to enhance the story but, in Peninsula, the attempt falls flat.
This is, mostly, an action movie: aside from the exciting moments featuring hordes of zombies, Peninsula features Mad Max-like car chases, wild insane people running the place as though we were in The Purge franchise, a hint of slapstick comedy and a lot of soap-opera-like drama. In addition, the last act is appallingly similar to a bloody, R-rated Fast and Furious spin-off. These contrasting tones, unfortunately, never match. The script seems to have been written with the same effort as this IMDb synopsis for Peninsula (image below).
Smooth pace and excellent directing
One factor that, from the enjoyment point of view, saves Peninsula is its pacing. One might argue that the slickness of the pace serves as an attempt to hide the lack of depth in the film: even if it were true… mission accomplished! Peninsula is extremely fast-paced and never boring. The action might not be originally storyboarded every single time, but it usually is very well-directed.
In fact, the camera work and prevalence of choreography during action/fight sequences is one of the best features Peninsula has to offer. The camera floats from one character to another seamlessly and, thanks to some very clever editing, most scenes result as realistic as some of the fights in The Raid. Make-up effects and gore are, also, on par with Train to Busan, although here they come off more as icing on cake rather than an integral element to scare the audience.
While Peninsula is not a bad movie, it falls on its feet too many times to be considered a good one. Aside from a weak script in terms of story and characters, the main problem with this film is that it doesn’t seem to belong to the Train to Busan universe. World War Z 2: Korea Edition would’ve been a much more appropriate title.
The attempt to make a large-scale, summer blockbuster ends up causing exactly that: Peninsula is nothing more than an average, big-budget, Hollywood-like zombie flick that has nothing to do with its predecessor. That said, the breakneck pacing combined with great fight sequences and exciting action pieces makes for an entertaining, albeit forgettable, watching experience.
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