Genre: Horror, Action
Director: Yeon Sang-Ho
Screenplay: Yeon Sang-Ho, Joo-Suk Park, Yong-Jae Ryu
Cast: Gang Dong-Won, Lee Jung-Hyun, Kim Min-Jae, Koo Gyo-Hwan
Running Length: 115 minutes
Synopsis: Four years after South Korea’s total decimation in Train to Busan, the zombie thriller that captivated audiences worldwide, acclaimed director Yeon Sang-ho brings us Peninsula, the next nail-biting chapter in his post-apocalyptic world. Jung-seok (Gang Dong-Won), a soldier who previously escaped the diseased wasteland, relives the horror when assigned to a covert operation with two simple objectives: retrieve and survive. When his team unexpectedly stumbles upon survivors, their lives will depend on whether the best-or worst-of human nature prevails in the direst of circumstances.
Review: Well, 2020 has just been a pretty cancelled year so far, hasn’t it? Who would have known that cinemas in Singapore would be shut down for more than 3 months, and that the entire release slate of 2020 will be in shambles since. But!!! We are back (for now)!!! And aptly, the very first blockbuster to be released into the wild in Singapore is from the Train to Busan universe, about a killer zombie virus that has decimated South Korea. Talk about art imitating life. With the release schedule in the coming months looking increasingly desolate, it’s no surprise that cinema operators are all looking to Peninsula as a lifeline, and fortunately, I believe the movie will generate sufficient positive word of mouth to make it a good first salvo to bring audiences back to the cinemas. That is, if you’re willing to overlook the dismal final 20 minutes of the movie.
Eschewing the confined space of a train that made the first movie such a special, visceral thrill to watch, Peninsula instead is a much more standard offering in the zombie genre of films, situated in a post-apocalyptic landscape that is immediately familiar to anyone who has dipped their toes into the pool before. The film does offer up a number of excellent action set-pieces, and at its best is reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road, though with much of the action set at night instead of in the day. The CGI is a little spotty at times, and is particularly apparent in some big zombie scenes, where the zombies don’t actually have enough “heft”, and the physics of interaction with other real-world constructs (like cars and trucks) thus does not manage to convince. Peninsula ends up looking more like a video game at times because of this, which does pull one out of the thick of action.
While the subject matter of Peninsula may not be as escapist as usual (boo), these action sequences are a very good diversion and are suitably entertaining (more so for audiences that have been starved of big-screen content for months). Production design is also top notch, particularly an extended sequence set in a remodelled shopping mall, which contains a wealth of small details that shows off the amount of thought put into its look and design.
Where Peninsula really disappoints, however, is in its plotting. While no one is expecting a deep, labyrinthine plot for a survival horror film, Yeon Sang-Ho and his fellow screenwriters opt for the path of melodrama, shoehorning in character interactions and plot “twists” that mostly ring false, due to the excessive amount of emotional shorthand employed, particularly with a score that is a little too on-the-nose for its own good. While this is merely a mild annoyance for most of the film, Peninsula nearly becomes undone by its final reel in which believability is stretched past breaking point, just to accommodate a pretty ridiculous emotional beat that left me rolling my eyes in disdain. Not that this is new – the first Train to Busan movie suffered similarly near the end, but even then the film managed to hold up pretty well. Peninsula doesn’t fare as well, but the absence of any other major blockbusters on the horizon means it should enjoy a good long run at the cinema, warts and all.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)