‘Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula’ Further Explores the World and Lore of the First Film – Review
I recall the feeling I had after finishing Train to Busan for the first time. Not only was this the first Korean language film I’d seen, but it was a unique addition to the Zombie Apocalypse sub-genre of cinema with excellent characters you either loved or loved to hate, anxiety-filled action sequences, and engaging stakes. After its Netflix US premiere, many others discovered this film and turned to Twitter to praise it like a horde of wild zombies (a horde I was admittedly a part of). It would only be a matter of time before we saw a sequel.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula sees the return of director Sang-ho Yeon, once again co-writing the script with Joo-Suk Park. The film takes place four years after the first and follows a group of refugees from Hong Kong who get hired to re-enter the apocalyptic wasteland that is the Korean Peninsula to retrieve a large sum of US dollars that was stranded there when the outbreak began. Of course, the mission isn’t as easy as expected as chaos ensues from all the creatures that inhabit the Peninsula.
I particularly love how this entry explores the world and the lore that these films inhabit. With Train to Busan (2016) being an origin film, the sequel shows what’s become of the Korean Peninsula, how other countries reacted to the outbreak, and how people from the Peninsula are treated as refugees almost half a decade later. I also have to give major props to the set designers for creating a believable and logical look for the remains of the Korean Peninsula. Random structures become death traps, and shopping malls turn to battle arenas (these scenes were exhilarating). It also highlights the adaptability and intelligence of the Peninsula inhabitants who utilize RC cars, flashing lights, and music to tempt the infected.
While there are no characters that carry over from the first one, there is a slew of new cast members leading this film. Kang Dong-Won heads up the refugee group as ex-military soldier, Jung Seok, with his brother-in-law, Chul-min (Kim Do-Yoon). Both have their experiences with colorful members of the Peninsula from the ruthless Sgt. Hwang (Kim Min-Jae) to the incredibly impressive Jooni and Yu-Jin (two standout characters played by Lee Re and Lee Ye-Won, respectively). The cast in this film holds their own against their threats (both human and otherwise), but their characters pale in comparison to those from the first film.
Peninsula just doesn’t have the same feeling as its predecessor. The lead players had important backstories and flaws that exhibit growth, but lacked depth and twists throughout the story. While the characters hit their beats perfectly fine, they weren’t as compelling as I would’ve liked them to be. I felt no immediacy in their course of action or any terror when they were in danger. The action sequences came and went and were devoid of the kind of “hope-they-make-it-out-of-this-train-car-oh-my-God” tension that I loved from the previous film.
While I love introducing zombie advancements in this film (seriously, those battle arena scenes are fantastic), I felt underwhelmed by the presence of the infected. Most action sequences are in Tokyo Drift style car scenes, and I missed the more hand-to-hand combat with everyday items. However, I understand that realistically, cars and guns would be the go-to weapons for apocalypse survivors, I just felt the action came across as a bit mindless and underwhelming because of it.
While Peninsula lacks a lot of what made the first film so special, I can’t deny that it’s a fun time regardless. You get to see how the world adapted to the outbreak, which people lost their minds and to what extent, and the greed that possesses people in this kind of situation. We get to see how hard it is to answer the moral dilemma of choosing to save someone else or just save yourself (which is an easier question for some characters to answer than others). It may not be as masterful and unique an entry as the first, but it’ll definitely keep you wondering what other stories this world has to offer.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula on VOD and select theaters August 21.