Current Issue #487

Film Review:
Peninsula

Co-writer/director Sang-ho Yeon’s follow-up to his fondly-received horror-actioner Train To Busan lacks that film’s powerful simplicity and emotional core, and proves to be almost hopelessly derivative and sentimental.

Whereas Busan was a chase/survival tale about a 9-to-5 working-stiff trying to save himself and others aboard a speeding train increasingly full of ravening undead, here we instead have a conspicuously Westernised mish-mash of the Dawn Of The Dead remake, Aliens, various Mad Max outings, a little Bong (Parasite) Joon-Ho-wannabe stuff about families and a dreary whack of the Left 4 Dead computer game.

With a new crop of characters (and way too many of them as well), we open briefly four years ago with Marine Captain Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) trying to save family members from a South Korea overrun with zombies, but it’s all naturally futile (and no need for spoilers, really). In the present he’s drunk and haunted in Hong Kong, where survivors are hated by the locals and might be about to lose their refugee status, and we hear that Korea has reunified (!) and the South is quarantined. Yep, there’s that word again.

Director Yeon has to think of some reason why anyone would ever (ever!) go back (see also Aliens, The Descent 2 and so many other scary flicks), and here it’s all about money, with a decidedly shonky group looking to secretly send a bunch of mercenaries in to retrieve a truck carrying US$20 million (for some reason). Jung-seok joins his similarly traumatised former brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and a pair of expendable types and travels to Incheon in the dead of night – but never fear because supposedly “zombies can’t see in the dark.”

Naturally that’s not right at all, and soon endless, frequently CG-ed armies of rotters are after the quartet, and while they’re referred to as zombies in Korean and English, they actually behave more like the ‘Infected’ in 28 Days Later, as they stagger, sometimes sprint and occasionally leap like demented circus acrobats across the studiobound sets.

Luckily Jung-seok is saved by a nice gang of survivors (complete with two cute kids), but Chul-min is grabbed by a sub-military mob of nasties who force him to outrun attacking zoms in a sort of Mad Max: Beyond Zombiedome, and later hit the road in a flotilla of cars stolen red-handed from every Mad Max movie, from the 1979 original to 2015’s Fury Road.

With too much going on, too many subplots, too much icky weeping and more tiresome screaming than George Romero’s entire filmography, this is a disappointing attempt at sequelising a surprise international hit, with an unappealingly sour hero fighting off monsters that, as they’re frequently rendered via wobbly FX, never prove scary, even when they form a sort of wriggling, tumbling wall like in Busan (and the dismal World War Z too).

As it’s proven a hit in Korea (possibly due to the COVID-19 crisis meaning that the country’s cinemas have little else to show), it is possible Yeon might be convinced to turn out a Part 3 and make this a zombie-crammed trilogy, but it’s hard to get excited about such a prospect, because the whole thing has so very obviously gone off the damn rails.

Reviewer Rating
5/10

Peninsula (MA) is now screening at selected cinemas

DM Bradley

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