2020 seems to be the year for optimism when it comes to sequels (see Bad Boys For Life and The Debt Collectors). Not all movie fans have a flexible take on a particular kind of story, and directors like Yeon Sang-ho have invariably made note of this fact, and so went the sounds of many a mind blown when news of a sequel to his 2016 film, Train To Busan, was well under way.
Enter Peninsula, the latest chapter in Yeon’s sprawling zombie saga that dives right into the ensuing collapse of Korea, introducing Marine Captain Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), whose own life is about to take a truly dark turn as he attempts to join the exile with his family via naval ship. Chaos suddenly erupts on the ship, forcing a detour from Japan to Hong Kong, where for the next four years, Jung-seok and brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) are left stranded, and forced to survive under the employment of a Hong Kong crime boss.
The gang has been managing business under the table with help from the coast guard, however, and it just so happens that the boss gets wind of a food truck full of cash sacks brimming with millions of U.S. dollars was left stranded before it could make its destination. The boss assigns his goons along with Jung-seok, Chul-min and a few others, to set sail, and within three days, retrieve the truck and get back to Incheon harbor and deliver the money back to Hong Kong.
Sound simple enough, right? Well, just when all seemed to be going according to plan, Jung-seok and his team are ambushed and split up by a gang of bandits, led by menacing Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and a gang of psychopaths – former soldiers left behind in the fallout of the zombie apocalypse headed by the deranged Captain Seo (Koo Gyo-hwan). In the wake of the fracas, Jung-seok is rescued and eventually left in the care of two young and resourceful girls, Joon (Lee Re) and younger sister Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), as well as their mother, Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), and Grandpa Kim (Kwon Hae-hyo).
In similar fashion with Train To Busan, Yeon brings a familiar redemption tale in Peninsula that once again focuses on the protagonist whose flaws tend to take precedence in the most important situations, leaving him to his own inner torment for years to come. Those internal feelings come back in the film, in the best way a film of this kind could allow with Dong-won in the driver’s seat and steering a ride full of exciting and compelling characters, and moments both tragic and triumphant.
Min-Jae is possibly one of the best and most entertaining character actors in his field. His spotaneity as an actor is a compelling thing to witness, especially in the role of Hwang; He’s exactly the kind of villain who has no moral compass and knows a little more than even his cohorts are willing to put out, and yet he can’t see the forest from the trees. His actions are what inherently perpetuate the plot, not really knowing just what he’s wedged himself in the middle of, and the underlying tone of mistrust and suspicion of his fellow men, including Seo, speaks wholly to how intense things can get.
Not only does Sang-ho’s Peninsula raise the bar for the action, it breaks the speed limit as a balls-to-the-wall hardcore road thriller. Dong-won thrills with a John Wick-style performance caliber that more than suits him as one of the best leading men in his his field. Adding to the excitement is Lee Re and Lee Ye-won, both who seem to apply themselves brilliantly to almost anything with a set of wheels. The film’s villains have an underground arena-like setting of their own in which they place bets, while human prisoners are forced to mosh against each other to avoid being eaten by a stack of zombies before time runs out. Between these and the other set pieces, Peninsula is several parts heist thriller, and other parts road-raging actioner, and it’s as Beyond Thunderdome as it gets with levels of gore and violence cranked slightly higher than the last.
By continuing the story, Sang-ho more than demonstrates his creative caliber of good direction. With Peninsula, he ups the ante in nearly every direction while handing audiences a survival thriller that gives you heroes to root for, in the kind of universe where you would expect less. Furthermore, it’s very brief, but it also bears noting how discernible it is the film touches on regional xenophobia, given the timely condition the world is in as racial unrest grips the United States in the wake of Covid-19.
Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula ascribes to a palpable and realistic approach in characterization and storytelling that still transcends throuth escapist fun and excitement for movielovers alike. It’s a story with heart, exciting action, and characters that will have you as lit-up as one of Yu-jin’s remote-controlled toy cars (and you’re absolutely going to love those scenes). More importantly, Peninsula will have you on the edge of your seat for what will easily be one of the best action horror sequels you’ll ever see, be it at home or on the big screen.
Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula opens in the U.S. beginning August 21, 2020 in select theaters from Well Go USA.