Movie review: Peninsula. Four years after Train to Busan, the zombies rule the streets…

Peninsula

We’re four years on from the zombie pandemic that ravaged the Korea that we saw in Train to Busan (2016). The port city proved to be no refuge from the rampaging menace, and the zombies took over the country. Some lucky few of the non-infected escaped by sea, but no country wanted to receive the refugees, worried that they might carry the zombie virus. One of the escapees, Jeong-seok, played by Kang Dong-won, lives on as an illegal immigrant in Hong Kong, at the mercy of Triad gangs. Korea itself is quarantined: no-one is allowed in or out. No-one in their right minds would want to go in anyway, and 99% of the inhabitants of the peninsula don’t have much of a mind for anything… apart from chomping the flesh of any of the remaining humans they can find.

Yes, there are some human survivors, hunkered down Mad Max style, in the desolate wastelands of the metropolitan area, scavenging off whatever they can find. And most of these characters aren’t much better than the undead they have to be so careful to avoid. But somehow flying a solitary flag for civilisation is the small family unit led by the feisty Min-jung (Lee Jeong-hyeon), her even feistier daughters Jooni (Lee Re) and Yoo-jin (Lee Ye-won) and their slightly doolally grandfather who imagines that he is in touch with the US army who will send in special forces to rescue them.

But the outsider who joins their circle is Jeong-seok, sent in with a handful of valiant countrymen by the Hong Kong Triads who have somehow got to hear about a truckload of US dollars stranded among a traffic-jam of abandoned cars somewhere in the city. The deal is, if Koreans find the truck and drive it to Incheon’s dock, the Triad boat will pick them up and let them keep a share of the loot. Believe that if you will.

With any disaster / horror movie there has to be some human interest to provide some relief from the mayhem. And the human interest in this story is provided by events four years earlier: as Jeong-seok motored towards Incheon port in his escape from the original zombie plague he turned down an appeal from Min-jung to save her and her family. Will there be redemption and forgiveness four years on? Will debts be paid back?

Peninsula

Of course, the truck, its cash, and the rescue boat with its promise of a life of luxury and freedom from pandemic misery proves to be a magnet that propels various different parties in the cast, all with conflicting motives, much as does a treasure map in a Manchurian western. And surely in this cast of characters there are the good, the bad and the weird. In fact the only characters who couldn’t care less about the truck are the zombies.

Cue all sorts of carnage: truck chases (including one lasting 20 minutes of screen time), gun-fights, gladiatorial battles royal, and of course those hyper-energetic Korean undead who have been hurling themselves at people and both moving and immovable objects with some vigour since the mid-Joseon period. Most of the action takes place in the pitch dark: the Korean undead are attracted by sound and light so there’s no other way to get the cash from downtown to the docks. This probably makes the special effects easier to accomplish (though the 250+ VFX artists employed in the production were still kept very busy), but also provide the background for some ingenious tactics by the human actors in using the undead as obstacles or even weapons against their opponents.

Lee Jeong-hyeon has an interesting filmography, starting at the age of 15 with the starring role as the girl in Jang Sun-woo’s The Petal. Other starring roles have included Ahn Gook-jin’s Alice in Earnestland, and on the way she’s had interesting work with the Park brothers in Night Fishing (they also directed her music video) and with Moon Sori in The Running Actress, as well as parts in big budget films such as Battleship Island and Roaring Currents.

It’s a shame she doesn’t have more to do in this movie, but what she is called upon to do, she does with aplomb: driving a truck as if it is a turbo-charged rally car, wielding firearms like a top special forces operative – it’s what you have to do if you’re a good guy in a zombie apocalypse: if the zombies don’t get you the bad guys will. Her stage daughter is an even more accomplished driver, navigating the narrow, darkened streets, often in reverse gear, with an unshakeable sense of stillness despite the humanly impossible G-forces.

If the whole enterprise isn’t quite up to the mark of Train to Busan it’s nevertheless a thrill-filled couple of hours. One just hopes that four years on from Covid we will have more to look forward to than the grim lawlessness of the Peninsula.

Peninsula screens at Celluloid Screams in Leeds, then there will be previews for Halloween and then in cinemas (eg Prince Charles Cinema) from Nov 6th. It will be available to own from Nov 30th.

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