TL;DR – A film that unfortunately cannot reach the heights of its past.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
A few years ago, I stumbled across this fascinating Korean film called The Train to Busan. It was a zombie film where every character acted consistently and understandably throughout its run time. In a sea of mediocre zombie flicks, it instantly rose to the top, and since then maybe only Cargo has come close to meeting it. Thus, I was excited when I heard there was going to be a sequel to that great film. However, now I have seen it. I realise I should have modulated my expectations before going in.
So to set the scene, we open in on the day that South Korea fell. With Seoul burning in the background, Captain Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) is racing through mountainous back roads to get his family out on the last refugee boat. While driving, they came across a stranded family with a baby and just kept on driving. They make it to the boat in time, however, as it is leaving one of the passengers turns and before they can stop it all of Jung-seok’s family is dead bar his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon). Four years later, in Hong Kong living in squalor waiting for refugee status, Chul-min and Jung-seok are offered an opportunity by a local gangster to make some real money. All they have to do is go back to Inchon, in what is now just known as The Peninsular, under cover of darkness and recover a food truck with 20 Million Dollars in the back. What could go wrong?
Now I feel like I am going to be a bit negative with this review, and that is more out of frustration out of where it could have reached more than anything else. However, this frustrating aside, some moments do shine in this film. When we do get the more practical zombies, they are terrifying. I know people have their preferences between slow and fast zombies, and this series falls into the latter camp. I don’t mind either when done well, and there were moments here full of tension like when Chul-min has to run away from them in the arena as part of entertainment for the militant Unit 631. This artistry also extends to the set design which gives you this wonderful repurposed feeling much as we saw in Seattle in the recent The Last of Us Part II. Also given these are focus on light/sound/movement zombies, I did like the exciting ways people used light and sound both defensively and offensively.
However, while these moments land the way they are incorporated into the film does not always work, and this is Peninsula’s central issue. Most of the action scenes are based around the interaction of cars and zombies. Think of what if Mad Max Fury Road was set in a city, not the desert and the apocalypse was zombies and not that men ruined the world for everyone. This sounds like a great idea on paper, but in implementation, it falls down because of the disconnect between the practical and visual effects. Throughout most of these sequences, we cut from inside the car driven by Joon (Lee Re) to a mostly overhead perspective of the vehicle crashing into the walking dead. The shots from inside the car are gritty and cut with impact, but when we get to the outside shots that are created digitally, everything feels too floaty and too shiny. This disconnect creates an almost uncanny valley effect in almost every action sequence. I am not saying that the use of CGI is what held them back. Indeed not everyone can pull off a Baby Driver, and most of those stunts would have been too dangerous to attempt in the real. However, they didn’t have the budget to make the car feel part of the universe rather than just cropped in.
This is continued with the characters in the film that are set up at the start of the movie as one thing and then fall apart in the third act. To explore this, it does mean that there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. There are a lot of good character moments in this film in the first two acts. I liked that we had Joon and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won) set up as these badass survivors that honestly put everyone else to shame, which is why it is so frustrating that they spend the climax of the film in an emotional mess unable to cope. It is moments like this that undo all the hard work setting up the characters throughout the rest of the film. While this is frustrating, I don’t think it ruins all the good moments leading up to that which are all interesting and sometimes surprisingly funny. However, it is a pity that it just can’t stick the landing.
In the end, do we recommend Peninsula? Well yes. It does have its problems, but it is a solid film (my issues are that it could have been better than that). If you are a fan of zombie films, then you should give this one a watch, just reset your expectations if The Train to Busan is still fresh in your mind. If you liked the Peninsula, I would also recommend to you another Korean film Extreme Job.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Peninsula
Directed by – Yeon Sang-ho
Written by – Park Joo-Suk & Yeon Sang-ho
Music by – Mowg
Cinematography by – Lee Hyung-deok
Edited by – Yang Jin-mo
Production/Distribution Companies – Next Entertainment World, RedPeter Film, New Movie, Next Entertainment World & Well Go
Starring – Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Do-yoon, Lee Ye-won, Jang So-yeon, Moon Woo-jin, Kim Kyu-baek & Bella Rahim
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A;