‘Train to Busan’ sequel stalls the franchise
This year seems hell-bent on bringing us follow-ups to South Korean train action flicks that ultimately fall short. Four years ago, writer/director Yeon Sang-ho set the zombie horror genre on fire with a propulsive film about a virus outbreak on a bullet train. Train to Busan (2016) proved zombie movies still had some tricks up their sleeves. Unfortunately, its sequel Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula not only fails to advance the genre, it seems desperate to borrow from others.
TRAIN TO BUSAN: PENINSULA ★★(2/5 stars)
Directed by: Yeon Sang-ho
Written by: Yeon Sang-ho and Ryu Yong-jae
Starring: Gang Dong-Won, Lee Jung-hyun and Lee Re
Running time: 116 min
Peninsula has the ambition and the bigger scale you’d expect of a sequel. Yeon sets up this film around the same time period as Train to Busan and fakes us out into thinking this one might be set on a boat, a la Speed 2. Instead, this sequel thankfully avoids setting its sights on trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, and eventually flashes forward four years to the aftermath of the outbreak.
South and North Korea have unified and become quarantined by the rest of the world. South Korea lays in ruins, referred to as “The Peninsula.” Those who survived and made it to North Korea suffer discrimination and are generally refugees in shambles. Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won) and his estranged brother-in-law survived the boat prologue and find themselves involved in a petty crime ring until someone offers them an opportunity at a life-changing heist. They’ll do a midnight run into the restricted peninsula to recover millions of dollars from a derelict armored truck. Once they confirm by satellite phone that they’re in possession of the money, they’ll be rescued off the coast by boat.
This is where Peninsula begins genre hopping and goes off the rails. We get a heist film that morphs into Baby Driver with terrible CGI. Then we’re somewhere in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets 28 Days Later. Then, finally, it all devolves into a multi-car chase that wants to be Fury Road.
Train to Busan’s greatness shined through a seemingly tired old genre because it had its own idea. It placed importance on character and interpersonal struggle rubbed raw by the extenuating circumstances of a zombie outbreak.
By the end of Peninsula it really is just good guys versus bad guys with some zombies getting in the way of that struggle. There’s no bombast from someone like Ma Dong-seok. There’s no tension like the dark train car scene in the first film. And there’s nothing intriguing like a whole high school baseball team caught up in the action.
What Peninsula lacks in execution and ingenuity it certainly makes up for in its ambition to match post-apocalyptic classics on a budget. Imagine trying to make Mad Max: Fury Road with $16 million.
Peninsula isn’t a death sentence for the genre or even for the series. Hopefully it just represents a detour.