Probably the most eagerly awaited Asian movie of the year, the sequel to "Train to Busan" was looked upon by many as the savior of an industry that is in shambles due to the pandemic. And saving it did, earning $20.8 million worldwide in the first five days it screened, making it the first time since mid-March that the global box office totaled over $1 million. Regarding its quality as a film, however, that is a completely different discussion.
With the virus ravaging S. Korea, Jeong-seok is one of the few survivors who managed to escape the country, although his getting out included leaving behind a family with a small child who was pleading for help, and his infected nephew and his mother, but taking with him her husband, Cheol-min. Four years later, in Hong Kong, Jeong-seok is still guilt-ridden, but finds himself on a mission that could provide some sort of catharsis for both him and Cheol-min, who has actually stayed around. The two of them, along two more Koreans, take up a mission that involves them returning to Incheon, in the quarantined peninsula, to retrieve a truck that contains $20 million. Expectedly, nothing goes as planned, and the group is split up during an attack that causes two of them to be killed, Cheol-min to be captured by rogue militia 631, and Jeong-seok to be saved by two sisters, Joon-i and Yoo-jin. The two girls take him to their hideout, where they live with their mother Min-jeong and grandfather Elder Kim. Soon, Jeong-seok realizes that Min-jeong was a member of the family he left behind.
The turn of Korean mainstream cinema towards the style implemented by Hollywood blockbusters is something that has been going on for years, but in "Peninsula", the tendency seems to have found one of its apogees. In that fashion, the main story, with its extreme coincidences, the constant use of the "Deus-ex-machina" prop, and the paper-thin characters (maybe with the exception of Jeong-seok) is, obviously here just to serve the action. Gone are the many sociopolitical comments and metaphors of "Train to Busan", and what remains, narrative-wise, is only the intense melodrama that is actually here to draw even more audience.
Evidently, though, "Peninsula" is not a film that aims to make its viewers think, but to enjoy themselves and probably forget this awful year. In that regard, and through the intense focus on impression, again as dictated by Hollywood action blockbusters, it is easy to say it succeeds. The combination of Lee Hyung-deok's rather polished cinematography, the occasionally frantic editing of Yang jin-mo and the music by Mowg result in an audiovisual extravaganza and a number of scenes that are bound to stay on mind. The ones in the "arena", the many car chases, and the various "interactions" with zombies are all very impressive and actually carry the movie, to a point at least.
The casting also follows the audience-drawing tactics of the production, with actors that are here to draw-in every demographic. Apart from this however, Gang Dong-won is as cool as ever in the protagonist role, Lee Jung-hyun as Min-jeong the main representative of the melodrama, while the two girls, Lee Re as Joon-i and Lee Ye-won-I as Yoo-jin steal the show on a number of occasions.
Add to all the aforementioned a little bit of occasional humor, zombies that are depicted in the most impressive way possible, and an ending that is both very melodramatic and open enough to allow another sequel, and you have the backbone of the movie.
"Peninsula" is a film that aims to entertain and to sell tickets, and in that regard, it is easy to say that it succeeds to the fullest. In terms of context, though, not so much.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Peninsula" "
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