Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Dong-Won Gang, Jung-hyun Lee, Re Lee, Do-yoon Kim, Koo Kyo-hwan, Hae-Hyo Kwon, Min-jae Kim, Lee-Yewoen
Runtime: 116 minutes
Most of the time, sequels tend to produce disappointing results when compared to its predecessors. Of course, there are always a few exceptions such as Shrek 2, Godfather Part II, Aliens, The Dark Knight, and a few more. But when Hollywood producers and creators create sequels, they tend to get lazy. Before releasing a sequel, creating an original film with exciting characters require a lot of research and effort. The story has to be cohesive, but it also has to bring something new to the table. Once a film is successful, Hollywood tends to spit one or two more sequels. Because the characters and the world are already familiar to audiences, this already somewhat gives Hollywood producers assurance to create a box office success. That is why writers tend to spend less time with the characters, scripts, and stories, but instead spend more time using its budget on its CGI and visual effects.
Recently, South Korea released its summer blockbuster film Peninsula after its successful predecessor Train to Busan. While Train to Busan managed to surprise viewers with its strong character development, zombie thrills, and themes related to social hierarchy, its sequel Peninsula is a total mess as it fails to evolve its characters, forces tearjerkers, and falls flat on its message. Furthermore, besides the fact that this film takes place in the same universe, every aspect of the film is different stylistically. It once again proves that just because a film has a bigger scale does not mean it’s a better film. If you expected Peninsula to be even something even remotely related to Train to Busan, please don’t watch this movie. Besides the fact that this film takes place in the same universe, everything is so different stylistically that one might be shocked to find out that the same director directed these two movies.
Before the virus spreads across South Korea, the film introduces us to a new character Jeong-Seok (Dong-Won Kang). He and his family relatives try to evacuate the Korean peninsula through a ship harbor and seek asylum in nearby countries. After an infected passenger board on the ship, all hell breaks loose. Eventually, the world declares South Korea as an abandoned country. Four years after the virus outbreak, Jeong-Seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Do-Yoon Kim) remain in Hong Kong as a refugee. After being assigned to a covert operation, a Hong Kong mafia boss assigns Jeong-Seok, Chul-min, and two other Koreans on a mission. The mission is simple: go back to South Korea and retrieve $20 million USD that is stashed inside a truck. However, when his team unexpectedly encounters survivors, they must all try to complete their mission amid dire circumstances.
The first ten minutes of the movie does well by showing the city in ruins. Director Yeon Sang-ho manages to expand the cinematic universe by showing what happened after the people tried to evacuate the country through a ship harbor. Other than that, this film fails to develop the first film’s theme and shows how Yeon Sang-ho should stick to directing smaller budgeted films. Even though the film crew targeted this film as a Korean action zombie movie, it does not add any specialty in its setting. Because there have already been so many movies and TV shows about zombies, adding a unique aspect either in the story or its setting could have easily made this film much better. However, Peninsula offers nothing special to the characters or the environment. Instead, it seems that director Yeon wanted to show that people are the real villains. But that premise has already been used so much that there was nothing special about this film as many of us have already seen TV shows like The Walking Dead and other movies that show what happens to a world filled with zombies.
However, what made this film tiresome was that it lacks character depth, and the action scenes lacked originality. The film tries to tackle themes related to motherhood, sacrifice, and familial love, but it felt extraordinarily bland and formulaic. The acting was unnatural, and there were just too many forced tearjerker scenes that had me shaking my head more than anything. Moreover, director Yeon wanted to take well-known action movies and insert it into the movie. For instance, the car chase scenes remind us of the Fast & Furious series, while the film’s villains tried to imitate the War Boys in the Mad Max: Fury Road.
Finally, the biggest flaw of this film is its unbelievable narrative flow. The film does not focus on the small details as it makes viewers wonder why the boss would choose certain characters to go on a mission. Considering that this film was part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, I expected a lot from Peninsula since Yeon Sang-ho set the bar for zombie movies with his prequel Train to Busan. Nevertheless, what made me really disappointed was that even though this film had the merits of its prequel, it did not utilize or take advantage of it. If the film tried to go deeper into the characters and the background setting, or try to connect more with the previous series to make the audience care more about the characters, this film could have been a summer blockbuster film. Unfortunately, all this film did was excite fans all over the world and made them frown in disappointment.
Peninsula is just another bland zombie movie filled with cliché characters and overused action styles. Do not expect this to be the next Train to Busan.