‘Train to Busan’ sequel derails from beginning as zombies take a backseat to military troop gone awry

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Jacqueline Chang

An artist’s rendering of Gang Dong-won, who stars as Jeong-seok, an ex-South Korean soldier. The protagonist fights for his life to escape from zombies and a rogue military unit established nearby Incheon Port in “Peninsula,” the long-awaited sequel to 2016’s South Korean-made “Train to Busan.”

Alice Lee

Earning $98.5 million worldwide, South Korea’s “Train to Busan” returns four years after its initial release with a long-awaited yet disappointing sequel that features a cliche good guys vs. bad guys plot and unnecessary elements.

When director and screenwriter Yeon Sang-ho (“Psychokinesis”) first took viewers into his world of virus-infected South Korean zombies and a group of passengers fighting for survival on a train to Busan (a major city known for its beaches), his themes of self-sacrifice and unconditional parental love catapulted “Train to Busan” to more than just an action-horror flick.

Unfortunately, the ride in producing the sequel took a wrong turn when the Korean Herald reported that producers would include a completely different cast without any updates on the survivors from the first film and a whole new setting — Incheon Port in northwestern South Korea, the third most populated city after No. 1 Seoul and No. 2 Busan.

It’s also not a good sign when the sequel’s title undergoes various changes from “Train to Busan 2” to “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula” to just “Peninsula.”

So this nearly two-hour movie flashes forward four years after “Busan” ends when what appears to be an American crime boss (Geoffrey Giuliano, “The Singapore Grip”) living in Hong Kong offers Jeong-seok (Gang Dong-won, “Ilang: The Last Brigade”), his brother-in-law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon, “Lucky Monster”), and two other Korean refugees a job to drive a truck loaded with $20 million in cash out of the South Korean peninsula (hence the movie’s title) and toward the Incheon Port, where a ship awaits to transport the four of them and the truck back to Hong Kong.

If they succeed, the team gets half of the money, and of course they accept the mission. And so we expect that this squad will be the main characters who will for the rest of the film have to overcome the zombies who are somehow still alive.

But disappointingly, that’s not what happens. Half of the team face their end too soon before the audience can form an emotional attachment with any of them.

And their deaths don’t necessarily just come at the hands of the zombies, either. The director’s decision to introduce a rogue South Korean military unit led by the barbaric Sgt. Hwang (Kim Min-jae, “Urban Cops”) and the useless Capt. Seo (Koo Gyo-hwan, “Maggie”) convolutes the plot, adding more of a “Mad Max” vibe than a “Zombieland” one.

This time, “Peninsula” doubles the number of kids in the storyline compared with “Busan,” and although they’re cute and quite innovative when we first meet them, their survival rarely comes in doubt throughout the last half of the movie.

Furthermore, the film contains unexplained intangibles that become confusing. For example, the zombies from the first film supposedly have been left behind throughout South Korea; they cannot swim toward another country like neighboring China or Japan (zombies can “walk” but can’t swim? They can jump out of tall buildings and crash through windows but can’t swim?), and they do not seem to age. After four years, the world has yet to figure out how to extinguish these walking dead.

Such questions will definitely be looming in the audience’s mind throughout much of this sequel.

An area that the movie’s producers succeed in is the eerie darkness that pervades throughout much of the time that the team spends in Korea. Viewers from “Busan” will recall that zombies have difficulty with the darkness and the silence that naturally comes with it. So our hearts do quite beat much faster whenever certain lights go off or sounds are made as the protagonists are either trying to complete their mission or survive against these antagonists.

One fault with the lighting techniques, though, concerns the director’s decision to have cars’ headlights shine onto the zombies followed by a medium shot of their faces making their classic facial and hand gestures. That might work as an avenue to frighten us the first time, but it becomes annoying after watching the same thing happen a few times thereafter.

Despite the initial excitement for a sequel to an excellent zombie apocalypse film, “Peninsula” fails to live up to the hype and does not entertain viewers enough. Originally released on Aug. 12, the Korean import with English subtitles can now be seen on the big screen in Orange County theaters as COVID-19 cases have been simmering down. 

As of Sept. 12, the closest movie theater to Sunny Hills that’s screening “Peninsula” is Regal La Habra.

Nevertheless, viewers looking for something to do (especially since Halloween is a bit more than a month away) are better off skipping the sequel because of the poor storyline and unexplained plot points. 

“Peninsula” does not have a movie rating but has occasional violence and some profanity.