It wasn’t until nearly two decades after Night of the Living Dead that George A. Romero returned to the zombie genre with his first follow-up in the franchise, Dawn of the Dead. As such, the series did not continue with any specific human characters (which would have been difficult anyway, given the bleak lack of survivors), but instead traced the progression of the zombie apocalypse as an allegory for something larger. While the follow-up to hit South Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, follows the same model of continuing the narrative, it lacks the impact of Romero’s shifting social relevance. Instead, Peninsula feels more like the traditional sequel, capitalizing on the success of the last film rather than evolving from it.
It also feels like a movie that studied Dawn of the Dead in deciding what direction to take the sequel, focusing on the de-evolution of men in an apocalypse much more than the zombies themselves. With the action amped up and a number of post-apocalyptic car chases, one would not be mistaken in seeing similarities to the Mad Max franchise as well. While this is endlessly diverting, a reliance on computer generated imagery reduces the scope of some of these action sequences to video game cutaway-scene-quality.
Although the main portion of Peninsula’s plot takes place four years after the events of the first film, it begins with an introduction to the outbreak through the eyes of new characters. We join Captain Jung-seok (Dong-Won Gang) at the beginning of the outbreak, a South Korean marine with special resources to save his sister and her family before evacuation becomes impossible. Despite making it onto the boat in time, an outbreak on board devastates his family, leaving only Jung-seok and his brother-in-law (Do-Yoon Kim) alive. Four years later they are stranded in Hong Kong, treated as social pariah because of where they come from.
Korea is thought to be lost to the zombie plague, and few have entered safely since borders were closed up (in an unintentional, and ironic, parallel to the borders being closed with news of the Coronavirus), until Jung-seok and his brother, Chul-min, are hired to sneak through the border in a treasure-hunting mission. Little do they know, but humanity has not been stamped out in the country, though it has devolved into a civilization built on brutality and power struggles. After being attacked by this army of scavenging humans, Jung-seok and Chul-min are separated. While Chul-min is captured by the scavengers, Jung-seok is rescued by a pair of resourceful sisters, Joon and Yu-jin (Re Lee and Ye-Won Lee), who take him back to their mother, Min-jung (Jung-hyun Lee).
With a society set up with inventive good guys and brutal bad guys, there isn’t nearly as much need for the zombies in this narrative than was used for Train to Busan. There are certainly still zombies, but they are rarely the only element in a scene. More often than not, they are merely props in the action scenes between the humans fighting each other. Sometimes this is effective, though the methods of filmmaking often let the film down, as masses of CGI zombies are no more fun to watch than the car chase scenes completed entirely in a computer. I don’t know if it was a limited budget, rushing the film through post-production to shorten the time between releases, or simply a shortcoming in South Korean CGI, but these sequences are nearly enough to ruin what does work within the anticipated sequel.
Despite an over-emphasis on the visual spectacle, Peninsula simultaneously contains elements of emotional melodrama that feels distinctly South Korean. At times this contrast may feel a bit ridiculous, this also may be the most effective element transferred over from the first installment. It is much easier to care about the characters than it is the action, in this particular film.
The Blu-ray release for Peninsula comes with a DVD copy of the film. The discs themselves have interviews and a making-of featurette. There is also an English-language track available, though subtitles are a preferable method for viewing.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 5.5/10
Special Features: 5/10