That odd, unwieldy title ensures there can be no mistake.
This is, indeed, the eagerly awaited sequel to Yeon Sang-ho’s zombie apocalypse action-flick, Train To Busan (2016), a film that completely reinvigorated a tired genre, providing the kick up the backside it was in dire need of. As in the first blood-spattered helping, it’s clear that the director doesn’t much care for ‘less is more.’ In Yeon Sang-ho’s world, zombies don’t stumble along like OAPs, they come after their prey like champion sprinters on steroids, and they come in overwhelming numbers. They writhe, convulse and gallop across the screen. They tumble off wrecked bridges, slither through shallow water and explode through glass barriers. Trust me, I’m talking peak-zombie.
Penisula is set four years after the first story. South Korea has now become a quarantine zone, a place completely overrun by the undead. They’re very short-sighted now, but are attracted to bright lights and loud noises. Surely nobody would be stupid enough to venture back there? Especially ex-army officer Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) and his brother in law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), who, as we learn in the film’s pre-credit sequence, have every reason to be afraid of the undead.
But the two men are Korean exiles living in Hong Kong, where they are despised by the local population and can’t find work. So, when an HK gang lord hears of a lorry packed with millions of American dollars, abandoned somewhere in the quarantine zone, he sets about putting together a gang desperate enough to go after it. It’ll be easy. Bish, bash, bosh, and you’re millionaires! And of course, our two heroes can’t resist.
While Peninsula might not be quite as brilliant as its progenitor – it loses, I suppose, the surprise factor that the first film had in spades – it’s nonetheless superior stuff. The devastated cityscapes of what used to be Incheon are astonishingly rendered (and really make me wish I could view this on a cinema screen), while Yeon Song-ho’s encounter with Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), a woman he failed to help in the past, gives us a reason to care about what happens to both of them.
The film’s trump card though is provided by Min-jung’s daughters, Jooni (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), who have developed a way with cars (both real and the radio-controlled variety) that would put Max Rockatansky to shame. There’s also a lovely turn by Koo Kyo-hwan as Captain Seo, the former head of a military unit, now turned into a deranged despot, fond of organising bizarre games where he pits luckless captives against the infected. As before, the theme is clear. Humankind is capable of behaving in ways that make their zombie counterparts look almost reasonable by comparison.
There’s plenty here to relish: there are fight scenes, fright scenes and car chases aplenty. There are crashes, smashes and (literal) fireworks. In a nail-biting extended conclusion, the director mercilessly piles on the suspense – at several points he actually has me yelling at the screen – and there’s a satisfying reveal towards the end which I really don’t see coming.
Okay, so this hardly qualifies as a heartwarming film for the festive season, I get that… but if you’re in the market for a good zombie apocalypse picture, this one will be hard to beat.