Following up Train to Busan is no easy task. The 2016 Korean zombie film made international waves and is considered by many to be a modern classic. Even its animated prequel Seoul Station was criticized because it couldn’t quite live up to the first movie.
Peninsula falls into a similar tragic pitfall. When holding it up against Train to Busan, it will inevitably come up short. However that doesn’t diminish its quality in any way, nor does to mean that it doesn’t come close.
So let us judge Peninsula on its own merits and as the spinoff it truly is, rather than a traditional sequel.
The film begins with the devastating effects of the zombie outbreak reaching all of South Korea. Millions flee as the titular peninsula is quarantined.
Four years pass and two Korean survivors living in Hong Kong accept a mission to go back into South Korea to obtain a large stash of money, which they will be able to keep a cut of.
They’re both brothers-in-law who have lost loved ones and the prospect of earning a large sum is very appealing. Despite being “welcomed” in Hong Kong, they’re faced with xenophobia and blame for the zombie virus because of where it started, which is now eerily relevant.
Mad Max with Zombies
Train to Busan was a tense, isolated, claustrophobic thriller, Peninsula goes full post-apocalyptic and it works, for the most part. What’s left of South Korea is a wasteland teeming with zombies. The closest thing to civilization is a group of soldiers living in a fortified structure.
They roam the streets looking for supplies, while capturing other “wild dogs” as they call them for their sick arena games involving zombies.
It makes for some really tense and exciting car chases through the abandoned city that live up to Fast and Furious, even if it relies a bit too heavily on CGI.
Ultimately the soldiers a greater threat to the survivors than the zombies are. But it’s really interesting to see how both sides use the zombies against the other.
Still Hits the Feels
One of the most quintessential components of Train to Busan was that it hit its audience with an emotional poignancy that few other zombie films have ever done. Peninsula does a similarly brilliant job of giving us characters that we come to care about and can relate to.
Even the villainous soldiers aren’t 100% evil (for the most part), and we can see how desperation has driven them to where they’re at.
The film’s ultimate thesis is what it means to make a “sensible decision” in times of crisis, whether we lead with the heart or the head, whether our goal is merely surviving for ourselves, or having something worth living for.
No, it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but that shouldn’t be the only indicator of cinematic quality. It still boasts moments of great tension, fear, and action. Admittedly, it gets a bit Deus Ex Machina in the third act, but it feels slightly earned.
Peninsula probably won’t have the same massive international impact that Train to Busan had. But it still makes for an entertaining and thrilling watch. After not being able to see a movie in a theater for over 5 months, this was a great movie to come back with!