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Peninsula 반도 [2020] - Film


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Peninsula poster.jpg

 

Peninsula
The sequel to Train to Busan
 
Director: Yeon Sang Ho
Producer: Lee Dong Ha
Written by: Park Joo Suk, Yeon Sang Ho
 
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Starring:
Kang Dong Won as Jung Seok
Lee Jung Hyun as Min Jung, the mother
Lee Re as Jooni, Min Jung's elder daughter
Lee Ye Won as Yoo Jin, Min Jung's younger daughter
Kwon Hae Hyo as the Grandfather
Kim Min Jae as Sgt Hwang
Koo Kyo Hwan as Captain Seo
Kim Do Yoon as Chul Min, Jung Seok's brother-in-law
Jang So Yeon as Jung Seok's older sister
Moon Woo Jin as Dong Hwan, Jung Seok's nephew
Kim Kyu Baek as Private Kim
Bella Rahim as Major Jane
 
Release date Korea: July 15, 2020
Release date US: August 12, 2020
 
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My review of this movie.

 

If Train to Busan was about one man’s redemption as a person and as a father, even as the world descends into chaos and animalistic fears and fury around him, then Peninsula is about one man’s attempt to address the regrets that he had for his actions and inactions, in his world that has already gone dark in so many ways.

 

Peninsula is a standalone sequel to the hit zombie movie Train to Busan, and seems to suffer both from trying to keep its distance from the original movie as well as trying to recreate some of the same leitmotifs that made the first movie a hit. Both movies focus on the development of the central character as he comes into contact with various characters in the movie.

 

Includes spoilers for Train to Busan

Spoiler

In Train to Busan, the protagonist is a layered character who suffers from guilt at not being able to be there for his daughter, even as he manages his job in trying to make money to support his family, and has grokked the lesson that he has to look out for himself first. This sentiment is at odds with his sensitive and well-mannered young daughter who still looks to give up her seat to a grandmother and looks to be helpful as she can. Ultimately, the protagonist battles not only the zombies in trying to keep his daughter safe, but also fearful humans who act in villainous ways out of fear and self-interest. He also sees other people, however, who are willing to sacrifice themselves for their fellow humans, for him, and ultimately, he comes to a place where he finds his basic good humanity while maintaining his focus of keeping his young daughter safe.

 

In his ultimate sacrifice to save his daughter and a pregnant woman whose husband had died to keep them safe from zombies, he holds onto thoughts of his young daughter as he ensures that he himself can’t hurt them or anyone else either. The daughter and the mother-to-be in the meanwhile reach the cordoned area of Busan, with the daughter singing the song that she had learned to sing for a recital that she was hoping her father would hear to prove that they are not zombies.

 

Includes spoilers for Peninsula

Spoiler

In Peninsula, the premise is that as the zombie outbreak sweeps through South Korea, they were able to maintain a virus free base in Busan for awhile, but it’s eventually overwhelmed as well, and everyone not infected tries to leave the country as a refugee. Thus, we viewers are left without any knowledge of the survivors from Train to Busan, the young pregnant woman and the young daughter of the protagonist, other than to think that they were probably overtaken by the zombies after all, unless they somehow escaped as refugees.

 

As the infection spreads, the borders are all closed and while other countries initially accepted refugees, they quickly moved to stop accepting them. The protagonist, Jung Seok is a Marine captain who is on one such refugee ship with his sister, her husband, and their son. Unfortunately, one of the persons who had come on the ship had been infected, and proceeds to infect the nephew (amongst others) while the husband has gone to get supplies. The mother refuses to leave her son, giving herself in to the infection. JS sees this and proceeds to bar the room so that the infected can’t leave and also prevents the husband from joining his family. The ship in the meanwhile has been detoured to Hong Kong rather than its original destination, implied to be the US.

 

4 years have passed and South Korea is a no go zone. North Korea has sealed its borders and the shipping lanes are patrolled by international coast guards to prevent any one from going in or out. Jung Seok and his brother-in-law who still resents him are living in Hong Kong in a state of limbo since HK (or any other country) has not extended any benefits to them including working permits, the implication being that they are just barely surviving. Jung Seok lives in perpetual guilt over the fate of his sister and nephew, while his brother-in-law blames him for not having done more to save them and for not letting him go and die with his family instead of living their miserable existence.

 

They, along with two other South Korean refugees, are offered a job by a mob boss to sneak back into South Korea and retrieve a shipment of US dollars that had been in transit to him when the zombie epidemic closed the borders and trapped the money in the country. They will 3 days in which to retrieve the money and return to an extraction point where the ship will be able to pick them up. The four decide that they have nothing to lose and are promised large sums of money if they are able to return successfully.

 

They are able to get into the country successfully and eventually locate the truck. It is as they are trying to return to the pickup site that they run into problems. The zombies, of course, who are alerted to their presence via noises, but, also a militia who ultimately take the truck of money. Jung Seok is ejected from the truck during the attack. His brother-in-law manages to hide in the truck itself and is later taken captive by the militia, and the other two members of the team die.

 

The militia is made up of former SK military men who had initially been trying to protect the people who had gathered there, fleeing from the zombies. However, as time passed without any rescue efforts, the military became the defacto rulers of that small bunch of people, creating a harsh and brutal life for themselves, dedicated to scavenging for food stores and maintaining the barriers against the zombies. A form of entertainment to keep themselves amused consisted of having non-infected people that they kept locked up out into an arena to be mauled by zombies who were let loose through a gate.

 

Jung Seok, however, is saved by a pair of young sisters. The sisters live with their mother and grandfather, and the four of them seem to be the only nice and decent people left, possibly on the whole Peninsula. The grandfather seemingly suffers from a mild dementia or mental stress issues, since he keeps insisting that someone was going to rescue them.

 

Upon meeting the mother, Jung Seok realizes that he had met the mother before. She had been on the roadside with her husband and their baby daughter asking for help as Jung Seok had been driving his sister and family to the ship. Back then, he had decided not to stop for them since his priority was his own family. So, it’s a twist of fate that his family should have died from the infection while she has managed to survive keeping most of her family intact, the father having died.  The mother, daughters, and grandfather had been living in the military compound with the militia for awhile, but then escaped and set up their own place in a deserted building, saying that the people in the military compound had all gone crazy.

 

Finding out about the ship that had been coming to pick Jung Seok and his team up, the mother decides that they have to get the truck and be there for the pickup instead. So, they plan to break into the military compound, secure the truck of money and get to the meeting point.

However, the leader of the military compound have discovered the money as well as the phone that needed to be used to signal the ship and has decided that he needs to escape as well.

 

The two groups battle it out to be the ones rescued, with the leader of the militia ultimately winning and getting to the rendezvous point. In a twist, it turns out that the HK mob weren’t planning on paying anyone any of the money. Ultimately, it all ends rather badly for mobsters and militia guy as the militia guy gets his own back even as he’s dying.

 

Elsewhere, there is an actual rescue attempt by the UN forces of the nice family, though the grandfather has already sacrificed himself for his precious grandbabies. In order to get to the waiting helicopter, the mother tells Jung Seok to take her daughters to safety while she distracts the zombies away from them, calling on the debt he owes them to get Jung Seok to agree.

 

Jung Seok gets the daughters safely to the waiting helicopter as the truck that the mother has barricaded herself into becomes overrun and she decides to commit suicide so that her daughters can leave without regrets over trying to save her. Jung Seok flashes back to his guilt and the accusations from his brother-in-law that Jung Seok had not done everything he could to save his family, and decides to go save the mother.

 

 

In Peninsula, we don’t get as much of a back story for the protagonist, other than that he’s a career military officer. It’s a given that he’s a by the rules person as well as trained to be pragmatic about the losses. And, given the situation, it is hard to see how he could have saved his sister and nephew from what happened to them. That does not prevent his slide into a guilt-fueled depression, especially as his new life has so little meaning or purpose to it.

 

Kang Dong Won takes the character and infuses him with a lot of conflicting emotions, anger, angst, and guilt that drives the character for better or worse. However, he’s not given enough to do by the plot. He’s actually a good guy who just wanted to protect his own family and didn’t want to take risks, and he doesn’t actually change that much throughout the movie. Even his final conundrum of whether to get onto the safety of the helicopter or to go back to save the mother isn’t really a conundrum in the sense that his responsibility in that moment of delivering the daughters to safety has been finished. Given his choice of safety of his own self versus trying to rescue the mother, it doesn’t take much choice. Since he is basically a good guy, if he had been alone in that car with the family at the roadside needing help, might he have taken the chance to let them into the car or would there have been another pressing reason why he had to drive by them without offering aid? And, given the other people on the ship, is there any other action he could have taken?

 

Similarly, the other characters feel less fleshed out, and as a consequence, I think the viewers are not as vested in their stories or the outcomes. The action scenes are a lot of fun, though, and Kang Dong Won holds his own as an action star, though there is some repetition here of other zombie movies including its predecessor.

 

If the ending scene to Train to Busan was emotional with a sadness mixed with relief that still felt like a satisfying ending, the ending scene in Peninsula felt more abrupt though still with a beat of relief. This movie is mostly dark, both in terms of cinematography and themes, with little relief provided during it. However, the film did not feel as if it dragged on even though its running time is just under 2 hours.

 

I honestly don’t know if this movie would have done as well as it has if it had been competing against a full slate of new movies. As it is, it is still an enjoyable watch, and not just because I managed to catch this one at a movie theater versus watching it on the telly at home. 

 

Grade B

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