‘Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula’ review: brainless zombie sequel is (un)dead on arrival

Mindless gore and relentless action are director Yeon Sang-ho's weapons of choice, with which he hopes to bludgeon you into submission

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, Train To Busan – 2016’s Korean zombie flick-cum-social-class-critique – was cinema’s most interesting, innovative and exciting dalliance with the undead in years. Korea has form when it comes to producing top tier horror. The late noughties boasted creepy hits like The Host and Death Bell. During the 2010s we had classics such as I Saw The Devil, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum and supernatural chiller The Wailing. Most recently, Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite took K-cinema into the mainstream.

All of these films are significant in prioritising the currency of ideas above all other disciplines of moviemaking. Peninsula, not explicitly a sequel, but the latest film to come from the Busan universe – which also includes 2016 anime prequel Seoul Station – doesn’t do this. It is a film as generic as white bread and baked beans.

Gang Dong-won plays Jung-seok, a Korean soldier now residing in Hong Kong with other refugees from the zombie-plagued peninsula. Here, in exile, the local triad offer Jung-seok a job which necessitates him returning to Korea and locating millions of dollars that have been left inside of a truck. Returning home, he will encounter many zombies and a rogue militia. As well as sounding like the side-quest of a video game, Peninsula plays like one too. Unlike its predecessor, it’s not trying to say anything important. It’s not trying to reinvent anything. It is, considering the franchise within which it sits, a bewilderingly average movie. If you approach it expecting anything more, you will be disappointed.

That said, it isn’t a terrible movie either, at least when viewed within the context of the action genre. Sang-ho’s zombies are as ferocious and feral as ever, and there’s at least two sequences – a car chase around Incheon City early on, and a Mad Max-style gladiatorial bout about halfway through – that make for pretty thrilling sequences. Were these to feature in an episode of The Walking Dead we would rave about their quality. It’s just we’ve come to believe that the Busan franchise would be – could be – so much more. This is far less a genre reinventing horror flick than it is a popcorn heist movie.

Peninsula
Gang Dong-won in ‘Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula’. Credit: StudioCanal

It’s a strangely pedestrian entry into Sang-ho’s acclaimed filmography so far. 2011’s Bay Of Pigs, the Seoul-born director’s first feature, was a sharply animated, extremely upsetting mediation on the cruelty of capitalism. 2013’s The Fake tackled the subject of morality, while 2018’s Psychokinesis is one of the best films ever made about fatherhood, wrapped up in the guise of a superhero movie. In this context, Peninsula jars – and feels like a missed opportunity to say something important.

Should you be content with a few hours of mindless, dumb fun, then Sang-ho’s new movie undoubtably delivers. And yet it may well leave you feeling numb where its predecessor made your brain fizzle with inspiration.

Details

  • Director: Yeon Sang-ho
  • Starring: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re
  • Release date: November 23 (Digital)
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