Yeon Sang-ho directs ‘Peninsula’, the long-awaited sequel to ‘Train a Busan’ (available on Amazon Prime Video), a large-scale zombie film that arrived in Spain after premiering at Sitges 2020 and become a big hit when it premiered. It achieved opening records and a gross of around €28 million in South Korea, where it was the number 3 film of 2020, with other significant figures in other Asian markets, from a very well stretched $16 million budget.
It is significant that its starting point is not very different from that of Zack Snyder’s ‘Army of the dead’, that is, a robbery or a raid in the quarantine zone full of zombies. Something that, like Snyder’s, seems like an extension of the opening scene of ‘Land of the Dead’ (‘Land of the Dead’, 2005), with which it has similarities not only plot but visual.
Saw Zombie’s Treasure
In ‘Peninsula’, four years have passed since the Korean peninsula was quarantined as a result of the zombie outbreak shown in ‘Train to Busan’. No one enters and no one leaves. The entire world assumes that the country once known as South Korea now belongs to the dead. A group of Korean refugees living a meager existence in Hong Kong agree to go on a dangerous return mission to retrieve an armored truck carrying $20 million in American bills. A Chinese gang leader facilitates the infiltration and escape in exchange for half the cash.
Like in ‘Sierra Madre Treasure‘, the most disadvantaged decide to seek life in a dangerous place with a promised prize that they are not sure of, but it is too much money for any of the refugees to pass up, so with former South Korean soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong Won) at the head of the expedition, they enter the zombie wasteland. It is a premise full of potential, which takes as a reference the most motorized action cinema. A premise that decides to separate itself from genre and tone with its previous installment, in a smart move.
Interestingly, no one has produced ‘Road of the Dead‘, George A. Romero’s posthumous screenplay about Ben-Hur car racing in a post-apocalyptic zombie world that was, in fact, to be his sequel to ‘The Land’. ‘Peninsula’ seems to want to take these elements to offer something that had not been seen in zombie cinema until now. Plus, it was set for a near-perfect release: Western interest in South Korean cinema is at an all-time high after its industry was given a big spotlight last year by ‘Parasite,’ which became the first country film wins the Oscar for Best Picture.
Zombies after the pandemic
Now its premiere is a bit blurred, when the interest in any apocalypse other than the one we are experiencing is not exactly on the rise. The film was shot last summer and was completed before COVID-19 broke out. But for its director, the objective was precisely to create something new in zombie cinema, to put aside the idea of creating a sequel and to make a show film for many age ranges, like this, while ‘Train to Busan’ was a film of claustrophobic survival in the early days of a zombie outbreak,’Peninsula’ is an epic adventure in the heart of an already established post-apocalyptic landscape.
However, its premiere in Sitges and in different markets is accompanied by a general disappointment for not being up to the previous one, from which it stands out with one of the closest expressions of the anime spirit to the cinema to what the medium can achieve with drawings. The result is a reckless and fast-paced Macedonia of zombie movie clichés and the fuel saga ‘Mad Max’, with the use of vehicles as a form of combat, speed as a recipe against despair and frenetic action scenes in a dilapidated world.
It does not have much subtlety in its approach, but it is very consistent with the spirit of blockbuster blockbuster at full speed. Its generous action scenes are an exhalation and although the tight budget leaves in sight the use of CGI is neither as bad as it is commented nor is it a problem to get carried away by a superb mastery of sequential art in movementwith mind-blowing editing and action planning that reveals its affinity with ‘Akira’ (1988), whose second half of the film, in which Special Forces infiltrate post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, was a major inspiration for director.
Ideas like the characters of the girls, who drive remote-controlled cars to deceive the zombies, or learn to drive better than most of the big men that populate this landscape, are thug details that make it less serious than its predecessor, and that the majority of heiresses of ‘The Walking Dead’, focused on the heaviness of the situation and the drama against the fun inherent in the genre. The original used archetypes like a rich yuppie and a homeless man to demonstrate the way a threat breaks down the artificial lines of social stratification (such a prominent feature of South Korean society), but in this one it posits the family as the basic unit of hope. for society in a barbaric society, in an isolated and frustrating world.
Peninsula drinks from various zombie and apocalyptic movies, such as the aforementioned saga ‘Mad Max’ or ‘1997: Rescue in New York’ (1981), and that incursion into a destroyed city separated from a world that follows its course, with dark tones and bluish with which Carpenter’s great western already left its mark on George Romero and his ‘Land of the Living Dead’ (2005), which has so many similarities with this one that it seems like a remake, but above all in that main piece of that “thunder dome” with zombies, in which the fighters are spray paintedwhich is a trace.
Peninsula leaves its cards on the table from its trailer, practically a summary of what takes place in the film. Any preconceived idea for being the sequel to ‘Train to Busan’ should remain in the expectation of the viewer who expects something more similar in tone to that one. The plot and details of the apocalypse are recycled from other popular zombie films, especially George A. Romero.but the central conflict of the character, and the structure with which he is presented is, in essence, the same as that of Robert Carlyle in ’28 weeks later’ (2007).
But here the idea is that of redemption, which takes place in the middle of an adventure on wheels, looks like the ‘Fast and Furious’ saga with its numerous action scenes, only adding masses of zombies to the mix, whose walking amalgams seem to be creations of new surreal flesh, the cinema of Brian Yuzna. That is her recipe and she is concerned, there is no complexity and more ideas than speed and feelings on the surface in climactic moments.
It is very easy to reject the honest sentimentality posture left by some final moments, a cynicism that tends to look down on a cultural trait and that, again, is simply almost attributable to its hyperbolic spirit of virtual adaptation of the anime spirit (the director’s specialty) to live actionso what could be asked or demanded of her does not go with her, with which the show is mindless evasion, with a technical look at the colossal montage in the scenes that matter to her and a low minimum performance in the flimsy connecting thread between these .
Despite its abuse of slow motion and some sugary screeching moments, ‘Peninsula‘ can be summed up in its fast-paced, sparky action scenes and luscious dark visual palette, added to the entire prologue of the ship, a harrowing zombie horror mini-movie that proves its intentions clear, something the umpteenth movie from couple locked in an apartment while the epidemic takes place, or the very serious dramas, affected by the air of self-importance of the subgenre after ‘The Walking Dead’, it seems that they have forgotten, and if a zombie movie should be something, and even Romero’s most critical satires full of social commentary prioritized himit’s entertaining.