PENINSULA, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Embrace Zombie Action

Train To Busan Presents: Tons Of Fun

I kept waiting for the moment when I was going to sour on Peninsula. The audience and critical reception had been so mixed-to-poor, after all. Its predecessor Train To Busan was so widely loved. Expectations in check, I fired up Peninsula with somewhat of a wince on my face. That wince gave way to smiles, and the turn simply never came. I had a damn fine time “at the movies” with Peninsula.

With my own reception being strongly positive (and, if I’m being totally honest, my reception of Train To Busan itself being that it’s solid and emotional but not revelatory), it begs the question: What did I see in this film that didn’t seem to resonate with so many others?

To answer that I’ll need to unpack the zombie genre from which this series of films hails just a bit. Undoubtedly birthed by the brilliant George A. Romero with his seminal “… Of The Dead” series, the last decade of entertainment has been saturated by the undead thanks in large part to Robert Kirkman’s breakout comics and television series The Walking Dead. Zombies have long been mainstream now. A genre unto themselves. A creature that, yes, in some forms existed prior to Romero’s iteration, but has become entirely defined by Romero’s vision. Today it’s a common refrain among film fans that zombies are over. Once they reached prime time TV, they became passé. And there’s simply too. many. zombie. properties. I frequently subscribe to this same line of thought myself. I couldn’t keep up with The Walking Dead after a couple of seasons. I’m not interested in a whole lot of the zombie experiments that have come along, from zombie romances to Disney zombies to zombie sharks or what have you.

And yet. Beyond all reason and logic, filmmakers keep coming up with new zombie riffs that resonate with audiences, entertain, break through the noise, or find a new cultural critique to explore through the walking metaphors who used to be us. Train To Busan itself seemed to really break through the crowd with a one-two punch of being a Korean take that’s executed with fast-zombie energy, and most importantly filled with heart as a distant father finds redemption and learns how to be a real parent whilst protecting his daughter from the zombie outbreak. Following an entirely new set of characters and set 4 years into the zombie outbreak depicted in Train To Busan, Peninsula isn’t a sequel so much as a new story set in that same universe. Writer/Director Sang-ho Yeon is actually completing somewhat of a zombie trilogy here with Seoul Station (animated), Train To Busan, and now Peninsula.

And so we come back around to why this film seemed to resonate with me so: And that’s that Peninsula may be a zombie film, but it’s also a straight up pulse-pounding action film… as many zombie titles are. And as a tried-and-true action cinema fanatic, it’s no wonder that this corner of the zombie genre appeals to me greatly. And here’s the thing: It’s a pretty badass action movie.

A full-on “men on a mission” movie, we follow Jung Seok (Dong-Wan Gang) at first through the tragedy of the zombie outbreak happening in the Train To Busan timeline. This prologue sets up Seok as a military officer who experiences tragedy as he loses some of his immediate family to the outbreak while onboard a ship. His ship ultimately lands him in Hong Kong, one of the last ships to escape “the peninsula”. Four years later the zombie outbreak seems to have been contained to the peninsula, and Jung Seok is an outcast in a city that doesn’t want him and sees him as a potential threat. Pirates arise to work on pilfering the wealth that remains in the zombie-ridden peninsula, and soon Jung Seok finds himself headed into the infected zone to find a truck stuffed to the gills with American currency. His team of outcasts just have to get in and out quickly and they’ll split the rewards with the shady pirate who’s recruited them. We all know it’s going to go sideways, but it’s HOW it plays out that makes all the difference.

Sang-ho Yeon seems to be having a blast with this movie. Writing in an Escape From New York inspired post-apocalyptic Korea, we meet all kinds of survivors, degenerate warlords, scavengers, and absolute hordes of top-speed undead. And with inspirations like John Carpenter or George Miller’s Mad Max series, you’re absolutely speaking my language. Jung Seok is quickly swept up with a family of survivors and begins to emotionally connect with them as they plan their escape from the infected zone. A couple of scene-stealing young sisters have survived thus far by perfecting the art of drifting their armored SUV into the zombie hordes and if that plot development doesn’t sound like fun to you, then I can see how Peninsula might not connect… because there’s a whole lot of mowing down hordes whilst drifting going on here.

With frequently poor-looking and weightless CGI and an emotional core that’s not quite as primally resonant as that of Train To Busan, I guess I can understand how people came away from Peninsula disappointed. I, on the other hand, felt entirely dialed in to the breakneck action/adventure vibe Yeon was able to achieve with this film and it hit the spot in a most satisfactory way. And while the emotions might not run as high, there’s still plenty of character moments and a forged family redemption narrative that feels effective and vital to invest the audience in the spectacle of it all.

I don’t mind some weightless CGI if I’m being taken on a wild ride by a confident filmmaker and simultaneously connecting with the cast of characters I’m meeting. And the Fast & Furious series has trained me to stop worrying and enjoy enormous vehicle chase scenes devoid of even a modicum of physics. Yeon is clearly aping Fury Road with a massive chase sequence that has to be seen to be believed here in Peninsula, and while it doesn’t match anything found in that masterpiece (what does?), one can’t help but be entertained by Korea’s action-packed take on George Romero’s undying creations.

And I’m Out.

Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula is available on Digital now and 4K Ultra/Blu-ray/DVD on November 24th from Well Go USA.

Previous post Who Wants to Watch HIGHLANDER Forever
Next post THE DONUT KING Shows One Man’s Delicious Search for “The American Dream”