‘Peninsula’ Strives For Bigger Impact, But Stretches the Emotional Aspects Thin

Since George Romero‘s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, the story of zombies being the scourge among us has been finagled in every which way. 2016’s Train To Busan felt like such a breath of fresh air in the genre – as the movie brought terrifying claustrophobia paired with a story that critiqued greed and elevated selflessness between family. Director Yeon Sang-ho made a movie that could make you feel and be taken over by anxiety all the same. With success as sequels do, there is an urge to make the story and setting bigger – to make the stakes higher and enlarge the universe.

Peninsula (noted as Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula in the U.S.), the third movie in the Train To Busan trilogy strives to keep those key emotional aspects present while introducing a bigger world and new characters. Sometimes when you do that, a lot gets lost in translation. While there are engaging characters within this film, it falls into the familiar in expressing the pitfalls of a post-apocalyptic world. Many of the scenarios you see put forth feel pulled out of movies such as Escape From New York or Mad Max.

Peninsula begins much like the smaller, character-driven narrative before it. Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), who is a general flees the South Korean peninsula with his older sister (Jang So-yeon), her husband Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), and his nephew Dong-hwan (Moon Woo-jin). All hell breaks loose when an infected person finds their way onto the ship, and his sister and nephew end up dying despite his efforts to save them.

Four years later, the Korean peninsula is all but abandoned. Foliage and the undead have entirely consumed the once-bustling country. The cinematography of Lee Hyung-deok captures a desolate, forgotten South Korea in beautiful detail. Meanwhile, Jung-seok and Chul-min have taken refuge in nearby Hong-Kong, where they have fallen to the depression of the events that happened on the ship. The townspeople look down upon them, but soon, their luck is about to change. Back on the peninsula, there is a truck that has $20 million on it and if they bring it back, it entitles them to a nice sum of money. The decision to have Peninsula take place mostly at night time gave it so much potential – especially in the first part of the movie.

The zombies can’t see without light, so making noise becomes a bigger factor. Unfortunately, after the first act of the film, the zombies and this potential premise feel forgotten. In Train To Busan, they were used for increasing the tension, thus enhancing the story. You held your breath because people felt like they could turn at any time. Here, the zombies feel like background noise. Car chases are in abundance in Peninsula, and the use of CGI in both the environments and hordes is very apparent.

The villains of the film are of rogue militia Unit 63, a group of soldiers who get left on the peninsula and go crazy. Led by Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan), the men scout the lands for food, supplies, and survivors to take part in their cruel forms of entertainment. It’s not that they don’t feel like threats – they are definitely the foils of the movie and commentary on how a world with no hope can turn men cruel. Once some characters get involved in the aspect of escaping the island with the money, they feel like any other nefarious villains that you’ve seen before.

One of the major reasons Train To Busan worked so well is because it was in a confined space for most of the movie and with that, there was enough story provided to have an emotional attachment to the characters. Jung-seok is the one you feel closest to in Peninsula. There is obvious guilt in what happened to his family four years prior and the inner belief he could have done more to prevent it.

The emotional connections come within the second part of the film in meeting a fun and ingenious sister duo,  Joon-i (Lee Ra) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), their battle-tested mother Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), and Elder Kim (Kwon Hae-hyo). Jung-seok has prior ties to the women in this family because in going to the rescue boat, he makes a choice and leaves them on the island. When their characters are introduced, Peninsula becomes a split between a heist film and a quest for redemption. The movie is sparse on details in how this family made it so long on the quarantined peninsula. When they all come together, the movie makes you want to root for their survival. Both because the world is closing in on them from rogue solider and zombies alike, and also because Jung-seok can be at peace for doing the right thing.

The big action set pieces and ones that establish the emotional relevance of the film often run long to create a lasting impact – especially with the finale. Themes of sacrifice and doing the right thing are hallmarks but conveyed in drawn-out, slow-motion scenes which can be distracting. If these scenes were cut down, they would work to benefit the runtime and the messages conveyed within it. Peninsula did the right thing in being more ambitious with its story – there are definitely more stories to tell in a world befallen by catastrophe. Unfortunately, sometimes when you widen the scope, you lose some earmarks that make the Busan universe stand out from a very tried-and-true horror background.

Photo Credit: Next Entertainment World

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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Journalist, Self-published author of five books, podcast host, and photographer since 2014, Murjani Rawls has been stretching the capabilities of his creativity and passions, Rawls has as a portfolio spanning through many mediums including music, television, movies, and more. Operating out of the New York area, Rawls has photographed over 200+ artists spanning many genres, written over 700 articles ranging displaying his passionate aspirations to keep evolving as his years in media continue.

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