Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Peninsula / Busanhaeng 2: Bando (South Korea, 2020)

Korean director and scriptwriter Yeon Sang-ho already had a tidy little career as the maker of adult-oriented animation films when, in 2016, he released a double whammy: first, in April, he released the mildly successful animated fast-zombie film Seoul Station (2016 / trailer), and then, a month later, his first live-action flick, Train to Busan (2016 / trailer), also a fast-zombie movie, premiered at Cannes and went on to be a major hit both in his home country and across the world. The latter is currently in remake development hell, due to eventually reappear with an American cast as The Last Train to New York
Trailer to
As is to be expected, the success of Sang-ho's zombie films, above all the mega-success of Train to Busan, has lead to a sequel, possibly the first of many — emphasis on "possibly", because the first sequel, Peninsula, a standalone story that takes place four years after the outbreak introduced in the first films, did well enough but only managed to take in a bit more than a fourth of what Busan took in, despite costing almost twice as much to make. It is easy to see why it brought in less dinero, for while Peninsula has its plus points and makes for passable viewing, it is a pale and overly familiar film in comparison to Busan.
When considering who survived in the first film, it is hardly surprising that none of the characters of Train to Busan appear again in Peninsula, which, like the various narratives of George Romero's shambling-zombie movies, instead tells a new tale that transpires within the same universe as Sang-ho's other two movies. Along the same lines, Peninsula even does a riff on the ending of Romero's Dawn of the Dead [1978 / trailer] — the last-minute decision of a character to not give up and die — as well as an idea used in Romero's Land of the Dead (2005 / trailer) and elsewhere: humans versus zombies in a gated arena for the entertainment of the masses. Those are not the only things in Peninsula that might remind you of another movie..
Peninsula opens within the same timeframe as Train to Busan, introducing us to the soldier Jung Seok (Gang Dong-wan of Jeon Woochi [2009 / trailer] and Dr Cheon and the Lost Talisman [2023 / trailer]) as he brings his sister, nephew, and brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Min-jae of The Wailing [2016 / trailer] and Urban Myths [2022 / trailer]) to safety. Safety proves short lived, however, and four years later Jung Seok and Chul-min are living broken lives in Hong Kong, where Korean people, as "bringers" of the zombie virus, are social outcasts.
There, with nothing left to lose, they and two other Korean survivors accept the offer of some Chinese mobsters to illegally re-enter the Korean peninsula and retrieve a truck full of cold, hard (American) cash. But once in the former South of the Two Ks, they have more than zombies to deal with: a rogue militia appears from nowhere and takes the truck, while Jung Seok is unexpectedly saved by two young girls, Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won) — seriously: Yu-jin is even a child — driving an SUV...

The MacGuffin of the flick is more than reminiscent of Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead (2021 / trailer), but with a smaller crew and lacking both the safe that needs cracking and the nuclear deadline of that Netfux film. Snyder's project is probably the better movie, but Peninsula does offer its own thrills and fun. As normally often happens in movies — see, for example: 28 Weeks Later [2007 / trailer] — and never in real life, the mother of the two girls, the take-no-nonsense Min-Jung (techno queen Lee Jung-hyun of Alice in Earnestland [2015 / trailer]), and Jung Seok, two people from a country that had (in 2023) a population of 51.74 million people, have a connection, so they of course work through things to team up to get the money and leave the island.

Peninsula is an uneven film with pacing problems, to say the least, and suffers from multiple overly long tear-jerking emotional scenes that seriously destroy the rhythm of the film. The two zombie-adept kids are beyond belief, but they are integrally involved in some the movie's best scenes and ideas, like the first chase scene and the use of toy cars to distract the dead. That first chase scene almost calls to mind a computer game in which points are gathered by running over the dead — a nod to Death Race 2000 [1975 / kill count], perhaps? — while the much larger and more explosive one that comes towards the end of the movie definitely owes a lot to the mass destruction of automobiles as found in the ultimate car-chase movie, Mad Max: Fury Road [2015 / trailer]).
That said, unlike the previously mentioned two dystopian films, Peninsula leans heavily into the realm of lousy CGI; luckily, as obvious as the CGI is, one cannot help but laugh and thrill as the events unfold onscreen.
Is Peninsula any good? Sure, in a very generic and brainless way. Despite its bigger budget, however, it does come across as a cheaper film than its predecessor and, on the whole, it is also less satisfying. But it goes well enough with a six-pack and smoke and a group of like-minded friends.
Like most modern zombie films, Peninsula is never in any way scary; likewise, it is surprisingly light on gore. But while one might have a fun enough time while watching it, particularly if you are a less-demanding fan of the genre, it is ultimately an entirely forgettable movie.
As an extra —
no-nonsense mom (Lee Jung-hyun)
sings Ari Ari (2002):

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