Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Yeon Sang-ho
A group of survivors are sent back to a zombie infested South Korea to find a truck holding $20 million in cash
For my money the opening to 28 Weeks Later is one of the greatest film openings ever. Robert Carlyle furiously runs away from a zombie attack in a countryside house, leaving his wife behind to be overcome by the infected. The score swells with rising tension, getting louder and louder, as do the sounds of the hoard of attacking undead. It’s tense, emotional and deeply unsettling, if not terrifying. There’s a feeling in the opening scenes of Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula – the sequel to 2016’s fast-paced horror hit – that a similar emotional punch is being aimed for. Soldier Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won) watches his sister and nephew become infected when it turns out that a safety ship out of South Korea is carrying a man who turns into a zombie on the way to hopeful freedom from the devastating outbreak that got out of control within hours.
Set four years after the events of the first film this is a loose sequel – likely the reason behind the decision to simply put “Presents” in the title instead of calling the film Train To Busan 2. The only major links are the fact that the initial infection is that the action mostly happens in Korea and Busan is mentioned once or twice. Instead of fast-paced zombie attacks we’re introduced to an almost post-apocalyptic world, like Mad Max with zombies. Gangs have been formed, some for survival, others for entertainment. The various members of the central group – including Jung Seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) – are sent back to South Korea, by a gang in Hong Kong, where they have been in safety since the infected struck, to find a truck holding $20 million in cash.
However, the group quickly find themselves either split up or killed. Jung Seok is taken in by a family who have managed to survive on the streets while trying to find some form of radio help out of the country. Meanwhile Chul-min is captured and entered into various trials where he faces off with other victims in battles against the undead. Initially starting out as a heist film before changing into something more of the survival and then action genre the horror tone isn’t quite there – distancing this more from the original. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where the film does fall in this respect is the fact that its jumping between characters, locations and ideas makes it feel rather clustered. As if there were so many ideas thrown around at a meeting that the writers (returning director Yeon Sang-ho and solo-writer of the first film Park Joo-suk) decided to go with multiple instead of one or two direct potential narrative points. Because of this jumping back and forth the film does occasionally feel as if it stops, or takes a step back every now and then to reacquaint the viewer with certain films. Add to the mix the more westernised feel to the film – there’s certainly a fair deal more speaking of English during a handful of patches over the course of run-time.
Yet, despite this there are still some decent moments of action throughout the film. The CG featured in a number of scenes – particularly in the extended finale/s, none of which quite hit the emotional punch that the film aims to copy from the original – isn’t best, but it doesn’t completely distract from what’s happening in the scene. Tension certainly isn’t there, and there is something a bit basic about the more traditional apocalypse survival feel to some moments, but there’s still a mild entertainment factor. Despite the stammers, the pauses and the varying tones throughout there are some interesting points throughout – especially within the gang underworld and the various trials they put people through. It’s all a bit Mad Max at times, but there are points that just about click and work amongst the faults and flaws. Just about enough to keep the film’s head above the zombie swarm and keep the interest of the viewer for enough of the share of the run-time to make this worthwhile. And who knows, this could be a film that improves on re-watches. It feels like it has the potential to. But for a first viewing, it’s good enough – even if it does try to cater to audiences it might not have aimed towards the first time around, although this is a very different film overall.
Less express bullet train more traditional steam train that needs to occasionally stop for fuel and water. Different and a bit jumpy, but not without its moments.