Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
The sequel to the vastly successful zombie flick proves to be an embarrassing failure
Train to Busan (2016) proved to be not only a surprise hit in the crowded zombie-genre, but a worldwide financial and critical phenomenon as well. The film was deliciously claustrophobic, had a straightforward plot, and clear but complex characters. With big successes, however, come the demands for sequels and spinoffs. This has befallen Train to Busan, and while many of these demands sometimes deliver worthy sequels, in the majority of cases it is not so.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020) is the unnecessary and desperate sequel its own title suggests. The film takes place in the same “universe” as Train to Busan but follows none of the surviving characters of that film. Instead, we get a recap of how this zombie pandemic has been constrained only to South Korea. We specifically follow the character of Jung Seok (Don-Won Gang) an ex-military who escaped the Korean Peninsula and moved to Hong Kong. Four years later, however, he is recruited with other refugee Koreans to go back to Korea and recover a batch of money stranded on a truck. Thus, Junk Seok is thrust back into the apocalyptic world he left, only to find that the survivors there have adapted with scary results.
Peninsula is directed by the same director as Train to Busan, Sang-ho Yeon, who looked to be a promising horror director. However, as one can tell simply by the plot description of Peninsula, he was finding it very hard to discover an excuse or motivation to visit his horror world again. Peninsula very much feels devoid of his artistic hand from the first film, and instead seems like a clear-cut studio product. There is a clear shift in trying to target western viewers by having the characters speak English randomly, which brings down the authenticity that made the first film so immersive. By taking us out of the constraints of a train, we also lose the claustrophobic aspect that greatly added to the tension in Train to Busan. Instead, Yeon convolutes his story with so many uninteresting threads, subplots, and side-characters that it crowds out any semblance of a clear narrative. The need for something “bigger,” always demanded by studios for sequels, also forced Yeon into crafting random action or chase sequences that embarrassingly uncovered the poor visual effects work in the film; not even setting these scenes at night masks CGI that would be more at home in the 1990s.
The plot of the entire film seemed to be improvised as the narrative moved along, so that plot points are forgotten, and no set-ups pay off. Gone is also the clarity in dialogue and the controlled and emotional performances of the first film. Instead, we get a script that would seem exaggerated and over-the-top in a soap opera format, and the actors themselves also seemed to be plucked out of such a genre. The exposition is incredibly clunky, the interactions so stale, and the performances so incredibly confused that it churns out a complete mess of a film.
Many horror films, however, suffer from poor sequels that are well below the quality of their predecessors; one needs only see the franchises of The Exorcist (1973) or Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as evidence. Peninsula is something beyond a terrible sequel, however, because it doesn’t stick to a familiar formula or structure. In fact, it has no structure whatsoever. This made the horror aspects and “scares” be completely ineffective and made viewers completely indifferent to character deaths. In this latter part, Peninsula vastly overestimated its own quality. We get three to four dramatic death scenes, complete with a booming string score and slow-motion. However, Peninsula had not built up these characters enough for us to care about them. In fact, the deaths of these characters give them more screen time than the rest of the scenes they were in prior. Thus, these overly dramatic scenes prodded snorts and sighs of exasperation instead of any of the intended emotions.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is a disappointing failure of a sequel and film. Yeon failed to find any motivation or reason for this story to exist and it clearly shows in the poorly written characters, dialogue, and overall narrative. The poor effects, laughable acting, and “un-scariness” of the whole affair makes one wonder what point does Peninsula have for existing apart from studio greed?