Review: Although 'Peninsula' Stumbles, It Still Remains a Worthy Watch
by Zofia Wijaszka
August 21, 2020
How far would you go to save someone in the face of danger? Or would you only care about yourself? Those questions and many survival quandaries are present in the original Train to Busan. Writer / director Yeon Sang-ho focuses the story on humanity, self-preservation, and greed. Coincidentally, I watched the original movie just a few weeks ago, and it completely changed my perspective on zombie films. Returning for the sequel, Yeon Sang-ho touches on similar themes in Train to Busan 2: Peninsula, and further explores these questions through the characters' actions. Although the second film stumbles and does not reinvent zombie genre nor is it anything unique, the storyline, special effects, and the message behind the film may still be worthwhile for viewers. It also touches on topics of community, population, and mutual respect.
After careful consideration, Peninsula has a similar premise to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It's set four years after a brutal zombie outbreak. A former soldier, Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won), and his group have to come back to the Korean peninsula to retrieve a truck full of money. Their boss (Geoffrey Giuliano) offers them a reward - if they safely transport the truck to thae ship waiting for them at the Incheon port, they'll receive some part of the money. Jung Seok reluctantly agrees. After arriving on the peninsula, it turns out that the country isn't really abandoned. After being violently separated from his brother-in-law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), Jung Seok is rescued by two girls, Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won). With her excellent driving skills, Joon maneuvers a vehicle through narrow turns and hidden paths to escape the monsters. Meanwhile, Yu-jin distracts zombies with her remote control car that's brightly lit and extremely loud. After arriving at their safe zone, the main character meets their grandpa (Kwon Hae-hyo) and the girls' mom, Min Jung (Lee Jung-hyun).
At the same time, Chul-min is kidnapped by the rebellious group of survivors led by Captain Kim (Koo Kyo-hwan), where he's forced to battle zombies and fight for his own survival. Ultimately, their goal is the same: get to the truck with money and safely transport it to the dock. So the battle against time begins. Everything must be done at night because dangerous zombies are less active only at night.
As mentioned before, Peninsula doesn't reinvent zombie genre and isn't as spectacular as its predecessor, Train to Busan. As usually happens with zombie films, the second part focuses more on human relations, where the fight with another group of people is more dangerous than battling zombies. But what makes this sequel more unique and ultimately still a worthy watch are the complex, emotionally-charged characters. Young female protagonists especially seized my heart with their amazing survival skills. There could be an even deeper emotional bond if it were older Soo-ann from the first part with the already born child, Seong-kyeong. This connection, I believe, would make sense and tie nicely with the first part (although the creators would have to explain how they ended up back in the chaos again). The characters of Joon and Yu-jin don't disappoint and are charming from the second we meet them. At some points, they even steal the spotlight from the main character, Jung Seok.
The film has two different plotlines. We follow Chul-min's attempts to escape, and Jung Seok's efforts to get to the truck. But one specific moment changes the course of the film and gives it a deeper meaning that relates to all of us much more. While I don't want to spoil it for viewers, I can say that it touches on the subject of atonement, regret, and repentance. These themes run throughout the movie, and automatically teach us a lesson. Jung Seok is the character who has to atone for his actions that follow him even after four years since the outbreak. At the end, Gang Dong-won's character is faced with a hard choice that will affect his and Min Jung's life. It will also show that he has learned something from his mistakes.
Other positive aspects of Peninsula are breathtaking visual effects, especially the ones showing a city that was once vibrant with splendor and technology. In the film, we see destroyed buildings, deserted cars, and wandering zombies. We can experience the richness of visual effects specifically while Joon is driving on empty streets, or a moment during a chase (that's the apogee of the action). Joon's driving is one of the best things in the film. I couldn't take my eyes off the film when she and her sister were on the screen.
Peninsula still offers lessons that we can apply to our own lives. In addition to the subject of atonement, the director showcases the immense and often destructive power of money, reminding us it can't buy happiness. It's a frequent theme that appears in Korean films (let's take Parasite, for example) as a criticism of its own society, to teach people a lesson that money can also lead to misery if it's used to do evil. It's also interesting to see that even in a land where zombies have ravaged an entire country, people still care more for money than others' lives. This sequel is definitely weaker than its first part. Still, it's a great watch for someone who likes to read between the lines and understands a message that relates to our world and humanity. On top of flesh-eating zombies, blood galore, and limbs being severed, the audience is taught life lessons which makes Peninsula a worthy watch, even if it's not as outstanding as the first. In that aspect, Yeon Sang-ho doesn't disappoint and once again delivers a thought-provoking film with hidden truths and compelling characters.
Zofia's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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