Movie: Train To Busan (2016) / Peninsula (2020)

I was so done with zombies.

In the 90s, I found myself a little ahead of the curve when I decided to see Dawn Of The Dead, after reading intriguing stories about the production in journalist Chet Flipo’s Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing.  Pretty soon, I was renting all kinds of tapes on the horror shelves I would have normally passed by.  Most weren’t worth a second viewing, others became some of my favorite films (hello, Evil Dead!).

I’m not sure why seemingly everybody else latched onto all things undead starting in the late 90’s, but pretty soon it was zombies-a-go-go: in mainstream movies, on TV shows, in comics, in games (both video and board), in books and even in children’s media.  You even had genre mash-up stuff like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.  So, it wasn’t like I going around saying I was into zombies before they were cool, but I did tire of the media saturation ahead of most other people I knew.

Which is why I am surprised I watched South Korea’s recent entries into the zombie movie canon.  I wouldn’t have bothered if it wasn’t for a captivating trailer for the first film that appeared on my blu-ray of The Wailing.  For a change, I am glad there’s always trailers on discs.

Train To Busan has an intriguing premise, one that is simple but flexible enough to stage some interesting scenarios.  Basically, various people are already on said train when a zombie outbreak quickly decimates the country.  With each new station the train approaches on its route, the engineer has to make a decision whether it is safe to disembark.  Panicked communications with those stations forces some hasty decisions.  Eventually, all communication with the outside world stops, period.

It would be criminal to reveal much more here, but even those who are only slightly into horror should find much to appreciate.  It is rare I recommend watching a trailer beforehand to determine your level of interest, but I whole-heartedly can do with the trailer for Busan.  There are some brilliant set-pieces here, bits horror-action that I haven’t seen done before.  There is even a certain dark, surreal beauty to some of them: such as a wave of the undead cascading through glass doors that are shattering under the sheer weight of the accumulated mass.

On the flip side, Busan does have some issues: chiefly, it is too damn long.  Waaaaaaaay too long.  In addition to the actual running time, the final third slows down the action and gets bogged down in melodrama, both of which compound the sensation the movie is dragging.

Then there’s Peninsula, a sequel that takes place four years later with an entirely different cast.  The film starts in Hong Kong, where survivors of the outbreak are struggling to survive and without the benefit of receiving refugee status.  In addition (literally) slumming it, they are regarded with fear and hostility by non-Koreans. 

We come to meet four Koreans, largely unknown to each other, who are teamed together by a crime lord to retrieve a truck trailer containing $2 million in US currency from the abandoned country.  Needless to say, things don’t go as planned once this group sneaks back into South Korea, and a mission to get stolen loot turns into a much larger adventure.

Peninsula references, and even giddily steals openly, from many horror and action movies.  Actually, this movie is best described as action with horror elements.  In its best moments, it is feels like a lower-budget Fury Road, and with more CGI. 

That said, HOT DAMN, this movie is a blast!  It may be a pastiche of other movies, but it knows the best movies to steal from, and the best moments to use from those movies.  It is big, fun, and even a bit smarter than your average film of this type.\

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

Starring…look, IMDB is your friend

Watched on Kanopy