In 2016, the zombie horror Train to Busan was a surprising hit for director Yeon Sang-ho. It grossed $92.6 million worldwide, including $2.129 million in the United States. Although not nearly at the level of a Marvel tentpole film's box office numbers (in 2016 Captain America: Civil War made over $179 million domestically during its opening weekend), Train came with a budget of only $8.5 million (comparatively, Civil War's budget was over $250 million), so it turned a massive profit. Regardless, Train to Busan is a popular horror entry that cleverly used the claustrophobia-inducing space inside a train containing both humans and zombies.

Yeon Sang-ho returns with the sequel, entitled Peninsula. Although it takes place within the Train to Busan-iverse (approximately 4 years after the events in the original), Peninsula is a standalone film with an entirely new cast. Park Joo-Suk, who wrote Train, returned to pen this script – this time co-writing with Yeon Sang-ho.

The story is interesting enough – four native Koreans are sent into quarantined Korea by a Hong Kong gang to recover a truck full of money. The abandoned truck contains $20 million in U.S. cash - plenty to share. Of course, the group runs into some major problems when they are attacked by a rogue militia who still live in zombie-filled Korea. Help, though, comes in the form of a family of four (including 2 children) who have learned to survive from both the zombies and the militia.

Peninsula focuses on Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), a guilt-ridden former Marine who made the difficult choice to leave his sister and nephew behind when they became zombies. His brother-in-law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), lives with Jung-seok in Hong Kong - also sad because of what happened to his wife and son (and spiteful towards Jung-seok for "doing nothing"). Chul-min joins Jung-seok on the mission, hoping that financial gain can help them cope. But the militia, led by Hwang (Kim Min-jae), disrupts everything and survival becomes immediately paramount.

Peninsula isn't an obvious horror – it's really an actioner with horror elements. In that sense it follows a similar path as 1986's Aliens – the James Cameron-directed sequel signified a shift to a sci-fi actioner, whereas its predecessor, 1979's Alien, was a masterful space horror. Peninsula's metamorphosis left it up to Yeon Sang-ho and Park Joo-Suk to find alternative means of tension and drama. For the most part, they did an excellent job – they used the prologue to provide backstories for Jung-seok, Chul-min and Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), the matriarch of the family helping them. Peninsula links Jung-seok and Min-jung using a minor plot twist, one that adds some necessary tension.

There's a lot of build-up (thusly, more quiet moments), so there isn't end-to-end action, despite it being an actioner. Yeon Sang-ho saves most of the action for the final act, which can best be described as Mad Max: Fury Road with zombies.

Peninsula continues the series' efficient use of character building and does so without wasting time (116-minute running time). The zombies are more of a dangerous stumbling block – they make way for the rising conflict amongst the humans. But Yeon Sang-ho left some creative and ingenious treats for viewers hoping to see the zombies in action.

Through the story, Peninsula highlights society's greed. A high premium was placed on the money, so much so that the importance of human lives paled in comparison (an observation not lost with today's pandemic).

And, as is always tried and true, regret and guilt pave the way for redemption.

Although not as good as Train to Busan, Peninsula is a solid sequel that should appease both action and drama fans. It's a little melodramatic at points, and the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, but this is an entertaining feature which should do well on VOD.

3.5 stars out 5


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