With words like, "quarantine" and "infected" pervading every aspect of life in 2020, Peninsula, the sequel to Train to Busan, was an undeniably odd and yet relevant choice for my first cinematic experience since March.
This sequel is set four years after the original. It follows Jung Suk (Dong-Won Gang), an ex-military captain, who, after a (somewhat) successful escape from the horrors of South Korea, is leading the life of an alienated outsider in Hong Kong. He doesn't have refugee status, he doesn't have many friends and everyone seemingly treats him like he's one of the infected. However! Opportunity knocks! Jung Suk is one of four South Koreans who are recruited to sneak back into the zombie-infested peninsula and retrieve a truck containing $20 million USD. That's right, this is Jurassic Park III and I couldn't be more excited.
Now, as I'm sure you've guessed, South Korea is not in a good way. Firstly, there are more than a few zombies who've taken up residence. Secondly, those that are still alive, have had their S.O.S. calls ignored for more than four years, so many have exhausted their supplies of hope and humanity. However, these survivors are also incredibly creative in the way that they avoid being eaten alive, and some of their strategies are enjoyable to watch.
I love the way that tension is managed in Train to Busan and I can say that I was equally impressed with the fluctuation of tension in Peninsula. The stories are completely different, and the way that they've been filmed is different too, but I was on the edge of my seat for the sequel, almost as much as I was for the original. With a lot of the aforementioned money-recovery-mission being completed at night (so as to avoid zombies with vision #trexzombies), long shots are scarier than they should be, as you never know what is lurking at the edges of the frame. There are moments where the camera shoots from a point of view angle, and viewers can't help but wonder what or who is watching our protagonist. Then there are the smaller moments, where a window that's been left wound down is enough to panic us into palpitations once again. And finally, there's a point where the camera zooms in, on a series of individual faces, in a moment that is most definitely a throwback to a classic western...it shouldn't have worked...but I loved it.
This film also uses juxtaposition and contrast to communicate meaning, create humour and alleviate tension. There are a few unexpected comedic moments amongst the chaos. There is also a high intensity car chase sequence, with it's fair share of violence, that occurs in conjunction with some gentle strumming music. I wish I could have paid more attention to the actual instrument that was playing, but I was too busy observing the zombies flying across the screen. Additionally, at one point, during a long shot of a very desolate South Korea, a billboard can be seen. I hope that the subtitles translated it correctly. If so, it says: "A healthy and carefree country". It's a pretty powerful moment.
One of the places that I feel this film falls down a little, is in the English dialogue. There is a lot of English dialogue in this film, and it is clear that it was made with an international audience in mind. At times this dialogue is laden with somewhat clunky exposition. An example is, "Don't forget: the zombies are blind at night and sensitive to sound". Or when an interviewee and an interviewer have the following exchange:
1: Yes, it's been four years already.
2. Yes, four years.
The English dialogue isn't terrible, but it isn't necessarily realistic either. My least favourite line, has to be, "She made a very sensible decision. It was for the best". I cannot emphasise enough, how out of place this line sounds at the time. Just know that in a zombie apocalypse, I won't be evaluating people's decisions, in the heat of the moment, with the word "sensible".
For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. There may be some clunky lines of dialogue, and there are some moments in the car chases that had me questioning where certain characters were hiding their third arm. (Please, someone tell me how you: change gears, turn 90 degrees, and turn your lights off, at the same time). However, I imagine that if I had the bravery of Charnstar, and actually invested time in the Fast and Furious franchise, I'd likely find the chase sequences in Peninsula to be very naturalistic. I did find this film to be a little more sentimental than Train to Busan which also lost it some points. Whilst I don't want to give anything away, I would have preferred a little more tragedy and a little less Hollywood-and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after...which they don't really...but I'm trying to be as non-specific, about some very specific issues that I have, as I can be. Sorry.
You can catch Peninsula at Event Cinemas, from this Thursday (if you didn't already enjoy it at the preview weekend like I did).