Sunday, 9 August 2020

Film Review: "Peninsula" ("반도") (2020).

"Four years after Train to Busan" comes Peninsula (반도). This South Korean action horror film directed by Yeon Sang-ho and written by Yeon and Park Joo-Suk. It is a standalone sequel to Train to Busan (부산행) (2016). Four years after South Korea’s total decimation in Train to Busan comes the next nail-biting second chapter in this post-apocalyptic world. Jung-seok, a soldier who previously escaped the diseased wasteland, relives the horror when assigned to a covert operation with two simple objectives: retrieve and survive. When his team unexpectedly stumbles upon survivors, their lives will depend on whether the best - or worst - of human nature prevails in the direst of circumstances.

Immediately after the success of Train to Busan, an animated prequel, Seoul Station, also directed by Yeon, was released and a follow-up film was announced. Yeon has stated that, "Peninsula is not a sequel to Train to Busan because it's not a continuation of the story, but it happens in the same universe." The film was selected to be shown at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, however, the festival was eventually cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae and Koo Kyo-hwan. Though not as strong as the previous cast, the cast here also come to realize that selfish short-sighted attention is inherently inhuman. Metaphorically, it's what separates us from the zombies. During the harrowing ordeal, you're hunkered down with a likable group of survivors who jump resourcefully from one trap to the next, with the real monsters being the executive types.

The film doesn't blaze any new trails, but it transcends the tricks and tropes of a genre that so often feels it has nothing more to offer. This South Korean thrill-ride doesn't quite feels as fresh -- not because it doesn't do anything new, but because it doesn't greases the wheels of the old machine, and delivers an unending series of emotional-less gut-punches at a tedious pace. In visual terms, the film is mesmerising. The actual horror scenes are not overly gory, and the chase scenes are excellently choreographed and filled with pure adrenaline, however, it leaves you waiting for the film to be over and leave with a tired yawn. The bad stuff can be ignored and the good stuff, if there is any, is good enough. The terror is nuanced and visceral enough, a gut reaction to the scale and speed of the attacks on screen. There is much to enjoy here, but is there ever really any justification for a two-hour long zombie movie? The film argues not. However, the amount of energy that director Yeon Sang-ho is able to infuse into the film is a welcome change from the stop and go nature of recent entries in the genre. Part horror and part satire, this is an exceptional movie that drags you screaming along at bullet-train speed. Extraordinary tension is counterbalanced with eerie calm, as survivors embark and disembark in quiet fear.

Simon says Peninsula (반도) receives:

Also, see my review for Train to Busan (부산행).

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