Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, besides challenging Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel for the worst sequel title ever, is an uncultured mutation of the original film, which became a runaway hit in the summer of 2016.
It came as a bit of a surprise that it is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, the same guy behind the stupendously entertaining first one. Peninsula is an affront to everything that Train to Busan stood for — originality, gutsy storytelling, and an affection for the genre.
Watch the Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula trailer here
It dabbles in all the cliches you’d expect to see in a zombie movie. Four years have passed since the events of the first film, and Peninsula chooses to deliver this exposition via news clips — perhaps the laziest manner in which films about global events can convey information. On that thought, prepare yourself to watch this same technique deployed in virtually every film about the coronavirus pandemic that you eventually and inevitably watch.
Like the other recent Korean zombie thriller — #Alive — Peninsula earns an expected relevance because of what’s happening in the real world. The sight of people trapped in enclosed spaces, as you’d imagine, is suddenly more unsettling than it ordinarily would have been.
Somewhat greedily, Peninsula, having recognised the first film’s international success, actively targets a Western audience. A lot of it is in English, for instance. In some cases, such as the scenes involving an American gangster, this makes sense. But on other occasions, Peninsula has local characters converse among themselves in a language that is foreign to them. It’s baffling to watch, just as it was in A Suitable Boy.
The American, in case you’re wondering, is running some sort of a mob in Hong Kong, where every surviving Korean has escaped to after the outbreak destroyed their country. He rounds up a bunch of those survivors, including an ex-Marine — our protagonist — and puts an offer on the table. There’s an abandoned truck back in the Korean Peninsula, in which bags containing $20 million in cash remain unclaimed, four years after the apocalypse. If the men can secure the stash and return with it to Hong Kong, they get to keep half. The only problem is that Korea is overrun by zombies.
Peninsula is a heist movie, which, incidentally, is what Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead will also be. But while Snyder has gone on record to say that Army of the Dead is ‘99.99% practical’ — like all good zombie movies — Peninsula is effectively flattened by its overreliance on CGI.
Many of its action is entirely computer generated, particularly the chase sequences, which often resemble a Need For Speed video game from the PlayStation 2 era. This goes against the very essence of the genre, which for decades has relied on visceral thrills to make sweeping metaphorical statements about the world.
Whatever observations that Peninsula was trying to make about class and race is lost in a flurry of artificial action. Few things are as distracting as poor CGI, especially in stories that require the viewer to suspend their disbelief. Here, it’s especially bad, lacking any heft whatsoever. The cars have a weird weightlessness, and the crowds appear to have been made not of ones and zeroes, but a rubbery goo.
These problems nibble the movie to a slow death. A snapping of the neck or a bite to the jugular would have been kinder — watching Peninsula is like being forced to watch a mauled animal die.