Published on November 25th, 2020 | by Dan Nicholls0
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (Blu-ray Review)
The sequel to the smash hit zombie film Train to Busan has a sequel — Dan Nicholls looks at the blu ray and the film.
You just can’t keep a good zombie down, or at least it seems the zombie genre itself will never be taken out to pasture. Filmmakers worldwide keep trying to find new ways to breathe new life into the living dead to varying degrees of success. Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula takes cues from its vastly more successful predecessor and gives us the type of rabid, raving, running, and relentless undead atrocities that distinctly draws a line between the zombies of yesteryear and today. In 2020 life just moves too quick to stumble and lurch – but is “bigger, better, faster” maybe just “bigger, faster”? This new film from director Sang-ho Yeon aims high but lands a little short of the profundity that the original Train to Busan achieved.
After an undeniably harrowing prologue Peninsula picks up four years after the initial viral outbreak began. South Korea is now abandoned and overrun with the undead, but a classic greedy gangster convinces a band of desperate, mourning survivors to go back in order to retrieve the truckloads of money that were left behind (pitching the task as a way for the displaced who escaped the warzone to go back in order to “make their own fate”). It doesn’t take long before the foolish are separated from the lucky.
The fittest who survives the initial broach back into the peninsula is former mercenary Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang), there for the money but really for his own redemption. He’s quickly paired with a nimble little makeshift family led by mother figure Min Jung (Jung-hyun Lee). It’s in the middle portion of the film that Peninsula feels like a lived-in-breathed-in world complete with the requisite deranged pack of violent societal remnants (“Unit 631” they call themselves) who pose as much of a threat to the good guys as the zombies do. Of particular note are the scenes set inside the bad guys’ safe zone where the poor and weak are thrown into a South Korean Thunderdome and forced to scramble for survival in the name of entertaining the big bosses. It’s a walking dead Mad Max that hits the film’s highest of high notes.
Even the deserted peninsula isn’t big enough for both disconnected tribes of good and bad survivors, therefore a race to the only safe harbor out of town comprises the majority of the final act. These sequences are amped up to 11 but lose some of their impact due to an over-reliance on CGI and car stunts that would make Vin Diesel weep. Tension is maintained enough to bring us to the climax but it gets dragged out far too long and leaves you just wishing – praying, hoping – for it to end already. It’s really this ending that leaves the biggest stain on Peninsula and smudges mostly positive memories of the performances, world building, production design, and actual scares that populate the majority of the running time.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula had a truncated theatrical run in August and is available now on Video on Demand, DVD, and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray edition has very few bonus features, comprised of four short interview featurettes that offer little in the way of insight, in addition to a teaser and a trailer. While it occasionally wavers narratively, Peninsula doesn’t let up on action/horror setpieces that thrill. Those highlights alone would’ve made a more comprehensive making-of package something special worth digging into – a lot of effort went into this sausage, it would’ve been kinda cool to see how it was made. The Blu-ray has some notable image compression at a handful of moments which is both surprising and unfortunate given the number of nighttime scenes in the movie.
Despite the areas that don’t work there is much that works very well here. The Busan zombie rules (they can’t see in the dark and are sensitive to sound) are played with to produce sometimes clever and surprising results. Despite the stock characterizations in the script both Dong-Won Gang and Jung-hyun Lee manage to turn in performances worth remembering. Even the expected tropes we’re used to don’t seem as rote thanks to inspired production choices. Peninsula has a finale that bombs and the picture itself never could have escaped the shadow of the universally-acclaimed first entry in the series, but these zombies have enough of a bite to leave a faint scar.