With a perfect amalgamation of emotional drive and relentless action, Train to Busan, alongside 28 Days Later and Rec, is arguably one of the best zombie movies of the 21st century. Does the sequel, Peninsula, match or transcend its predecessor? Predictably, no, but director Sang-ho Yeon still provides the pales of gore and absurdity that make this genre so perpetually fascinating.

Set four years after Train to Busan, the epidemic that erupted in Seoul has consumed all of South Korea. Disturbed and displaced by the initial outbreak, Jung-Seok and Chul-min return to the quarantined peninsula with a task force of mercenaries to locate and extract millions of dollars in deserted cash. When they’re invariably besieged by droves of famished undead and a barbaric militia, their mission soon summersaults into a dog fight for survival.

Peninsula hurls its audience into a post-apocalyptic fever dream reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, but this darkly captivating world, despite its bigger and bolder set pieces, somehow lacks the pace and tension of the first film. Set almost entirely on the sonic-speed KTX, Train to Busan is claustrophobic, building its suspense with close-quarters combat and splendidly choreographed violence. While Peninsula’s zombie vs. human death rodeo and Mad Max: Fury Road style car chases are irrefutably entertaining, this unbridled carnage comes at the expense of the qualities that made Train to Busan truly exceptional.

Although flawed, Peninsula still looms tall in a crowded genre. It benefits from strong performances by Lee Ye-won and Lee Re (the rest of the cast seems to get swallowed whole by the tempo of the plot line) and explores interesting themes around identity and displacement (analysed more thoroughly in Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming or John Lancaster’s one-dimensional Wall). It also packs enough swarms of sprinting zombies to ensure even the most hackneyed action scenes remain refreshing and sinister. In a Covid-19 reality, zombie and post-apocalyptic narratives have perhaps never been more poignant. It’s a shame that Peninsula merely scratches the surface of what the genre is truly capable of exposing and enunciating.

Dong-Won Gang
Do-Yoon Kim
Jung-hyun Lee

Sang-ho Yeon

Sang-ho Yeon
Ryu Yong-jae

23 Nov 2020

30 Nov 2020

Posted by Jim Reader

Jim is a London-based journalist who has worked for a number of titles, including Bizarre, Vogue, Boxing News and the Daily Sport. He graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2009 and became a Master of Research in American Literature in 2010.