★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Sang-ho Yeon.
Just as zombie films really aren’t about zombies, nor are heist films about heists. Sure there’s the undead roaming across the screen and the heist film brings you the extra-elaborate scheme to get the goods, but neither is really about what they claim. If you’re a follower of horror (and we know you are) you know that many things in horror are simply devices to get to the heart of the matter. Human emotions.
Who loves melancholy and good ol’ human emotions more than most? The Koreans. Yes, they love it, embrace it, and roil in the dramatic tension brought to the big screen by way of frayed family dynamics paired with a heavy dose of greed and avarice.
In his latest outing director Sang-ho Yeon (Train to Busan) returns the zombie genre with Train to Busan: Peninsula and gives a very loose connection back to his 2016 opus. Sang-ho Yeon also put his writing chops to work in this complicated, but enthralling tale of the zombie plague.
Peninsula is well concocted story involving the last Koreans to flee the country during the original outbreak. Korea is caput. Shutdown. Boarded up. The last survivors have been relocated to Hong Kong where they are treated like second class citizens and painted with infected derision. Former Korean soldier Jung Seok (Dong-won Gang) is forced down the ladder and left to deal with scummy Hong Kong lowlifes.
These lowlifes, however, have a plan. No one is going in or out of Korea, but, four years later, there’s still gold in them thar’ hills. Piles and piles of U.S. (?) currency are sitting in the back of a delivery truck and it’s up to this rag-tag group of Korean refuges to return to Inchon to nab the cash and catch a ride from the Yellow Sea.
Peninsula is not without complications, nor is it without plot holes and almost completely unexplained characters. Korean soldier Jung Seok is paired up with his brother-in-law, but also along for the ride is an older woman and a younger man whose connections to Jung Seok are never fully explained, nor is his connection to the American (?) kingpin who has masterminded the simplistic heist. In large part we’re left to assume that Jung Seok is so possessed with escaping the confines of organized crime, and more specifically, Hong Kong, that he’s willing to take on any task.
The group makes it to Inchon and very quickly a) find a car, b) that has gas, and c) even though it’s been four years and gas goes bad after six months, the car starts! Not only that, but they quickly (miraculously) find the delivery truck with the cash! Spoiler alert, the delivery truck also starts right up.
The group, led by the hunky Jung Seok, is quickly whittled down by the zombies. More troublesome is the fact that the delivery truck is nabbed by a gang of ex-military police that have been left behind to fend for themselves. Four years on and their world has devolved in to a bad cocktail of Escape from New York, Land of the Dead, and Mad Max. In addition to these reprobates Jung Seok also serendipitously discovers a kinder/gentler ragtag family that he just might previously have encountered four years prior during the evacuation.
All these elements come colliding together exactly as you’d expect. There’s a hyper-melancholy over-dramatic Korean ending. There’s a series of ridiculous acts of martyrdom. There’s even piles fast-paced video game-like zombies and excessive amounts of CGI. But, Peninsula does manage to nicely package up all the zombie tropes and elements from its undead forefathers and almost impossibly puts it all on a greasy-grimy platter for all to enjoy.
While Peninsula takes an incredible amount of suspension of disbelief to process, it actually manages to turn out a pretty decent product. Knowing that it was up against one of the greatest zombie films of all time it had a big hill to climb. Maybe it was the fact that Peninsula throws out so many zombie tropes that it becomes difficult for audiences to process what’s good or bad. Either way, Peninsula manages to put forth a pretty decent product in an otherwise dead genre.
Peninsula is probably Rated R and currently streaming on Shudder.