Train to Busan follow-up is a thrilling zombie-fest of sprawling action set-ups, but its emotional intensity has not risen from the dead
They say that comparison is the thief of joy. In the spirit of this sage advice it is best to watch Peninsula for what it is – a distinct follow-up to the all-conquering Train to Busan.
“In the same universe” said Director Yeon, but seemingly removed enough to be judged on its own merits. If only we could be so logical. The truth is, it is not possible to have seen Train to Busan and then simultaneously not want Peninsula to be at least as good, if not better, in direct reference to its thrilling predecessor.
We can double-back to its place alongside Train to Busan later, but let us start by assessing Peninsula as a film by itself.
Peninsula is set four years after the outbreak which unfolded in Train to Busan. Korea is no more in a literally sense, instead it is referred to as ‘the Peninsula’, a quarantined land mass filled with those rapid-movement zombies.
In Hong Kong, Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) and Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), some of the last escapees from Korea, are marginalised refugees in their new host country.
The pair, alongside two other Koreans, are placed on an operation by a Hong Kong gang to return to the peninsula to retrieve an abandoned food truck which contains US$20m in cash.
“At least they don’t go around in flocks,” says one of the crew about the zombies on the peninsula. They much do.
Alongside these unthinkably active clusters of zombies, they also discover a non-infected community there, divided between ruthless scavenger gangs and a family of survivors trying their best to navigate each day.
As the foursome get separated, they must form new partnerships, avoid the zombie army and battle in the blood sports that entertain the savage gangs before they can again escape the peninsula.
As a pure standalone action film, there is plenty to like. There are lots of genuine thrills which keeps the film purring along.
There are some useful visuals, many of which hang on the concept that the zombies are useless in the dark and deadly in the light. This enables set-ups such as using spotlights and flares as a weapon to gather the zombies' attention, and some neat usage of night vision goggles where darkness can suddenly become a massed horde of angry zombies.
The horror elements, which are relatively light on gore, do have some serviceable jump-scares and anxiety-inducing situations.
So now the inevitable comparison – does it stack-up to Train to Busan? The first note is there is a sense Peninsula is a little too aware of itself compared to its predecessor.
On the positive, unshackled from its confined train carriage domain, Peninsula can expand into new action landscapes, most prominently lengthy car chases as hordes of zombies attack from all sides.
However, the issues with Peninsula in general are best understood in reference to Train to Busan, chiefly that an emptier emotional core runs through the new film.
Train to Busan succeeds by combining emotional intensity and deep, profound social commentary. There are merely passing nods to those elements in Peninsula, producing a more generic action outing.
As such, your enjoyment of Peninsula may rely on which lens you view it through. Arrive with those intelligent, tear-jerking moments from Train to Busan at front of mind, you may be disappointed. Accept it as an entertaining action romp and there is plenty to enjoy.