Peninsula (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Welcome to Korean zombieland

South Korean film “Peninsula”, a sequel to director/co-writer Yeon Sang-ho’s “Train to Busan” (2016), is a typical mix of action movie and zombie horror flick. Although, as I told you many times before, I have been rather tired of zombies these days, the movie at least provides several well-made action scenes while throwing lots of zombies into the screen as required, and it also has human characters we can easily care about despite its overtly melodramatic moments.

In the beginning, the movie shows and tells us what happened not long after the ending of “Train to Busan”. At first, Busan looked like a safe haven for those lucky survivors from that terrible zombie plague epidemic which swept across most of South Korea within one day, but, alas, Busan also became infested with zombies in the end, and, after the last ship for refugees departed from the port of Busan, South Korea has been totally blocked from the rest of the world during next 4 tears.

Many of South Korean refugees were sent to Hong Kong, and one of them is Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), a young military officer who tried to escape along with his sister and her family but only came to save no one except himself and his brother-in-law. While he is going through his another bitter day in Hong Kong, a bunch of local gangsters approach to him, and he soon finds himself being with several other South Korean refugees including his brother-in-law. Because a considerable amount of valuable things has remained intact and untouched in South Korea, these gangsters looked for any golden opportunity and then almost succeeded in getting their target transported from Seoul to the port of Inchon, but, unfortunately, their plan went wrong somehow, and now they want Jung-seok and other South Koreans to locate a truck containing their target and then bring it to the port, where their ship will be waiting for a while.

Although a huge reward is offered for this dangerous mission, Jung-seok is not so interested at first, but, of course, he is eventually persuaded by his brother-in-law, and he and other South Koreans soon arrive at the port after the ship manages to go through the blockade surrounding the south part of the Korean Peninsula (North Korea has been protected well thanks to their heavily guarded border, by the way). All they have to do is driving to a certain spot in the middle of Seoul where the truck was detected for the last time, and everything goes fairly well as they finally arrive at that spot in question.

Of course, the situation soon turns out to be more perilous than expected thanks to those zombies lurking here and there inside the city. Although those zombies are usually quiet in darkness, they swiftly respond to any sound or light, and Jung-seok and his colleagues certainly know well that they must be careful as much as possible. Yes, it is apparent that most of zombies on the screen are CGI figures, but the movie still chills us with its stark and gloomy atmosphere hovering over Jung-seok and his colleagues, and there is a gruesome moment which suddenly reveals the presence of hundreds of zombies locked inside a certain stuffy space.

Things get complicated more as it is subsequently revealed that, as already shown to us via the trailer of the movie, there are two different group of survivors in the city. In case of a military unit which has gone rogue not long after South Korea was overwhelmed by the zombie epidemic, its seedy leader happens to discover that their latest catch, which is none other than that truck in question, contains an opportunity to get out of South Korea right now. Without telling anything to his second-in-command dude who often enjoys thrusting out a group of helpless survivors to zombies for a twisted entertainment for him and his cronies, the leader tactfully embarks on his escape plan, but then Jung-seok attempts to retrieve that truck along with a woman named Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and a few persons who have been under her care and protection.

Because he actually came across Min-jung during that urgent time in South Korea, Jung-seok feels another guilt in addition to the one involved with his sister’s family, but Min-jung clearly sees what matters most to her and others right now, and the movie soon gets accelerated by her steely determination. Not only she but also her two young daughters turn out to be pretty bold and brave in handling their respective vehicles, and the climactic part of the movie gives us a gritty and intense vehicle action sequence which is apparently influenced by George Miller’s Mad Max movies.

Like “Train to Busan”, the movie becomes quite sappy around the finale, and that is rather jarring compared to the rest of the film, but the main performers still hold the film together well. While Gang Dong-won dutifully holds the ground like Tom Hardy did in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Ye-won, and Lee Re are convincing in their strong and colorful performance, and the other notable supporting performers including Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, and Kim Do-yoon are also well-cast in their respective supporting roles.

Although it is less fresh and distinctive compared to “Train to Busan” as automatically reminiscent of many other similar horror action movies featuring zombies, “Peninsula”, which was supposed to be shown at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival before the festival was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic, still works well enough to engage and entertain me during its 116-minute running time. It may be a bit bland in terms of style and personality, but it compensates for that with a good amount of solid action and drama, so I will not grumble for now.

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