Updated: Sep 17, 2020
"Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020) directed by Yeon Sang-ho
"Peninsula takes place four years after Train to Busan as the characters fight to escape the land that is in ruins due to an unprecedented disaster."
You might like this if you like: "Train to Busan" (2016), zombies, literally any zombie movie, horror, thrillers, action movies, asian cinema, asian action, south korean films, "The Raid" (2015) due to its action/horror elements, "The Host" (2006), Bong Joon-ho
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR "Train to Busan" (2016) & "Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020)
Gong Yoo in "Train to Busan" (2016)
The first time I saw “Train to Busan” (2016) was on an airplane with my old boss. I’ll never forget us running around the airport looking for a headphone splitter. I was literally sprinting while he saved our place in line. Once on the plane we settled in and I booted up “Train to Busan” (2016). I remember my old boss was trying to finish some work on his laptop before we landed to film our next interview (documentary film shoot) but every 5 minutes he kept looking back over and getting sucked into the film. It’s one of those movies you can’t ignore in the background.
I think the reason this film works so well is the situational aspect. Adding even more claustrophobia to an already claustrophobic situation is exactly what a zombie film needs. What’s even better was I finally got an Asian take on a zombie film. They have the action bar raised high. Seeing them take an American genre and elevate it to where they did just shows what a country like that can offer to cinema.
The movie works so well on levels of horror, action tropes and drama. What stands out are the characters. Or should I say, group of characters. It keeps the story moving and gives it the wider perspective and fun of seeing their storylines overlap and interact with each other.
Ma Dong-seok in "Train to Busan" (2016)
These actors were all new to me before going in back in 2016. Gong Yoo as the father, Ma Dong-seok as the huggable gigantic husband with a pregnant wife “The Eternals” (2021) “The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil” and Kim Su-an as the daughter. They were outstanding! Kim Eui-sung played one of the best villains of the past decade. Choi Woo-shik, who played the baseball player, went on to become a star in “Parasite” (2019) & “Okja” (2017). Such a beautiful and talented cast of characters. If I’ve learned anything while watching Yeon Sang-ho’s films it’s that he creates really strong characters with really strong casting. Just makes watching them in a situation like this all the more worthy and terrifying..
The effects and quality of the film are just the cherry on top. Clearly it’s a big budget Korean blockbuster but it’s small in comparison to other zombie epics. It feels small and condensed but has a quality of big budget throughout that I love. So well executed. Just having a set like that to play on would’ve been a dream as a filmmaker.
My fiancé pointed out one of the most beautiful elements to the film. Every character who turned seemed to have a different response - or way - of turning.. Sure, most went insane and cannibalistic but the big characters all had their unique moments when changing. One got to see a beautiful memory before leaving this world, one had super strength haha, the elderly lady whose friend got stuck on the other side who we saw touch hands on the glass almost didn’t even seem fazed by it. Just added even more to Sang-ho’s characters and heartbeat of the film.
"Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020)
In reading other reviews for the first film I saw quite a negative one describing it as “Snowpiercer with zombies”. What do me and my fiancé think? That’s a sell. That’s an awesome way to describe this film. If you don’t want that then why are you here? The situation was the entire hook for me. Sure, I saw a clip beforehand that looked insanely awesome and made me want to see it but the IDEA of it. “Snowpiercer” (2013) is an awesome film on its own as well. They are both masterpieces. I’d take it as a huge compliment if someone describe my movie that way.
Well, for almost four years now it’s been one of my favorite zombie films. Now... I didn’t even know they were making a sequel in the first place until I sat down to watch it. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t see a trailer or any production photos promoting the film leading up to this.
Overall, one of the best zombie films I’ve ever seen but doesn’t top the first one for me. The first one just had a uniqueness that you can’t capture again and if you go in expecting that for this one you might set yourself up for some disappointment. It’s a standalone story that exists in the same universe as “Train to Busan” (2016). I did not know that going in. I thought it was immediately after and was completely confused for the first 5 minutes but I realize now it was my fault completely.
Gang Dong-won in "Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020)
Once again though, Sang-ho delivers outstanding characters to deal with the apocalypse. Despite not having a strong connection to the first, which I was kind of hoping for, the characters swept me off my feet and took me on a new and exciting ride. Knowing I was in the hands of Sang-ho kept me hooked. It was new territory and seeing Sang-ho attempt an almost "Mad Max" style approach to this film was really fun to watch. Both films hold strong messages for me about society and humanity and it’s been a great genre for Sang-ho to explore in. Gives me more faith that new zombie films can me made like this. I hope more Asian filmmakers throw their hats into the ring.
When you compare this sequel to other zombie films that are out, Korean films that are out, and even just films that are out right now / coming out right now; this is one of the best. To still be getting cinema like this during a pandemic is something I feel very fortunate to be even watching. Yes, a lot of these films were shot before COVID but being able to finish them and watch them during a time like this is the exact thing I need to get through the day.
Sang-ho brings the action back again with Gang Dong-won. I love the incorporation of martial arts and almost gun-fu (John Woo/"John Wick") like style he brought to this film. “Train to Busan” (2016) had some of those elements but with the adaptation of living in the apocalypse for four years - like they do in the sequel - you’re bound to learn how to kill zombies in a pretty badass way. He delivers too. Not everyone can pull off the gun-fu well.
"Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula" (2020)
My only fight with this film, if I had to pick one, would be that the two little girls and mom WEREN’T the little girl, wife of Ma Dong-seok’s character, and the fetus grown up 4 years later. It’s the same problem I had with “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) of Tom Hardy playing Mel Gibson’s Max character. Just make him The Feral Kid all grown up! All that aside though, it’s still enjoyable as hell to watch and one of the best action/horror films I’ve seen in years. It’s by far the BEST zombie sequel I’ve ever seen. It echoes “28 Weeks Later” (2007) but if I had actually cared about the characters. I still enjoy “Weeks” but that one pails in comparison to not just “Peninsula” but “28 Days” and “Train to Busan” (2016). It wasn’t a good change in directors for me. In the case of “Busan” and “Peninsula” I really enjoyed that Sang-ho was able to direct both and continue his story.
It’s a beautiful dual set of films in the universe Sang-ho created. A wonderful addition to the zombie genre.
Written by Sam Gall 08/06/20
CGC Grading: Gem Mint 10.0
Available in the U.S. August 12th
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