Peninsula (2020) Gets Stuck in Cliched Zombie Melodrama
First Wide Release: July 15, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writer: Sang-ho Yeon, Ryu Yong-jae
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Starring: Dong-won Gang, Lee Jung-hyun, Re Lee
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After surviving the initial zombie outbreak that overtook South Korea, Jung Seok (Dong-won Gang), his brother, Chul-min (Do-yoon Kim), and two other displaced Koreans agree to return to the peninsula illegally to retrieve a truck filled with stolen money. It seems like an easy gig until they are attacked by a gang that preys on the vulnerable survivors still left in the city. Jung Seok is rescued by Jooni (Lee re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), two sisters that live with their grandfather (Kwon Hae-hyo) and mother (Lee Jung-hyun). His brother is not so lucky, as he is later abducted by the gang. Jung Seok will have to team up with this family, whom he later learns he betrayed years ago, in order to save him and return to safety.
Peninsula fails to live up to its predecessor’s impossibly high standards.
Every beat of Peninsula feels like it was scripted to mimic better zombie films before it. It is painstakingly predictable and underwhelming. Plot devices feel more improbable than merely convenient. How do characters run into each other with such a distinct past? How do they then remember each other? Why are the streets so clear when the city has been ravaged by the outbreak for years? When did everyone become street racing experts in four years with no new sources of power? Some neat ideas don’t get properly fleshed out like a fighting ring of unwilling civilians, rat king zombies, and the general subplot of Captain Seo (Kyo-hwan Koo).
I can’t really talk about Peninsula without comparing it to Train to Busan. Train to Busan is effective because it firmly sticks to the horror and intensity of the situation while letting bits of comedy, drama, and action flavor the film. Peninsula flounders while jumping between genres hoping it sticks to something. Confining Train to Busan to one location propels the horror and claustrophobia. In Peninsula, we are left to traverse over the fake looking cgi landscape of an entire city and question where all the zombies are hiding. Filled with bright lights and dry one-liners, it doesn’t have a charm or style in its own. Peninsula just comes across as a cash in on the reception of Train to Busan. In the end, it is double the scope and half the heart.
And heart is something Peninsula really tries to sell audiences. It’s clear that the redemption arc is at the center of the main story, much like its predecessor. The problem is it feels too familiar. We hit all of these beats before, but they don’t feel as genuine. This is exacerbated by a glut of underdeveloped characters competing for screen time as well as constant, aimless action sequences. There’s little time to digest what’s happening before director Sang-ho Yeon decides to throw in another car chase sequence. By the finale, it’s clear that the film becomes an endurance test, and the overwrought and eye-rolling resolution takes place in the most annoying of cinematic fashions. If the editing team had any sense of compassion, they would have severely cutdown the climax, which amounts to the most melodramatic and annoying helicopter pickup in history of zombie films, and I’m including the absolutely dreadful 2013 film, The Demented here.
I appreciate that the filmmakers wanted to create a zombie epic and that’s completely valid. Personally, Korea already did a great job of doing that with #Alive in the same year, so hopefully future filmmakers will take more direction from there. There’s talent behind the Peninsula team, but the heart just doesn’t beat the same.
Formulaic and emotionally manipulative, Peninsula leaves a bad taste in the mouth of fans of what made Train to Busan so special. Instead of depicting well-rounded and genuine characters, creating pulse-pounding action set pieces, and making use of a novel setting, Peninsula resorts to relying on zombie cliches that theatergoers have seen hundreds of times before in many better ways. While it is serviceable enough in a subgenre that disproportionately churns out misses more than hits, Peninsula won’t satisfy fans of the franchise or curious audience members looking to get into it.
Overall Score? 5/10