Digital Review – Train To Busan Presents:Peninsula (2020)

There’s something about being on a train. The speed, the confinement, the close proximity of other people …… it’s almost as if it was tailor made for the cinema. From perennials like Murder On The Orient Express to the satire of Snowpiercer, it’s a classic setting, one that demonstrated its horror chops just four years ago with Train To Busan, is now regarded as something of a zombie classic. Which immediately sets the bar sky-high for a sequel. But we’ve got one.

It’s a title that hardly trips off the tongue, Train To Busan Presents:Peninsula, and that sheer awkwardness doesn’t bode well for the sequel, which is both released and set four years after the original. That it’s attempting to trade on the reputation of its predecessor is obvious because, once you get past the Korean setting and the usual threat posed by the flesh-eating zombies, there’s very little about this second offering that stands comparison with the first.

Former military captain Jung Seok (Dong-Won Gang) managed to get out of South Korea when the zombie virus struck and has been living in Hong Kong, scraping together a living any way he can. An irresistible offer comes his way, one that means going back to Seoul, capturing a truck laden with gold and money and leaving the peninsula, all within a tight time limit. It sounds simple, but the plan goes badly wrong, thanks to a local militia and, of course, those marauding zombie hordes.

While the original Train To Busan gave the zombie genre a much-needed shot in the arm and became an international hit, this follow-up takes the easier route of simply relying on aspects of other zombie and action movies, so there’s a sense of a film made by committee. Never a good sign. Nor is swopping the location from the confines of a train to a bigger world, alongside giving us a larger cast. That lack of confinement dilutes the tension and the characters are all one-note creations, moving from one loosely connected battle and escape to another. Even the tormented military man at the centre of the story looks more sulky than tortured. Such distance from the characters and the action makes ticking off a mental checklist of the films Peninsula has borrowed from more appealing than it should be. Day Of The Dead, World War Z and Mad Max:Beyond Thunderdome will all be there …..

Visually, the film fares somewhat better, with some of the early scenes shrouded in a haunting eeriness, and the way light is used to distract and confuse the zombies is strikingly effective. But their inability to see at night in a film that takes place almost totally in darkness makes them more idiotic than menacing and the film never recovers from this. Sequels have become such regular cinematic fare that the risks associated with them are often overlooked, but Peninsula is an object lesson in their pitfalls – and how to fall prey to them.

★★


Horror, Thriller | Cert: 15 | StudioCanal | 23 November 2020 | Dir. Sang-ho Yeon | Dong-Won Gang, Koo Kyo-hwan, Jung-hyun Lee.