1.5 out of 5 stars

Following the summer of 1994, film producers and writers were all brainstorming possibilities for where the sequel to the colossal hit Speed could be set. The hole-in-one simplicity of the first film—a bomb on a bus that explodes if it dips below 50mph—barely needed elaboration. Any sensible cinemagoer hearing that elevator pitch would grab the nearest newspaper to find showtimes.

But how do you successfully follow up such an ingenious concept, the kind that made rival studios thump their foreheads and wonder how they hadn’t thought of it first? We all know how that story goes—1997’s sluggish cruise-ship-based Speed 2: Cruise Control wasn’t so much a sequel as a sleeping pill-popping cousin, with even the film’s lead swapped out for a budget replacement. It was far from the first action sequel to struggle to recapture the magic of its predecessor.

It’s a particular hurdle for films with appeal based on location. Just as inner-city buses were traded for a very large, very slow boat in the aforementioned films, Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) replaced Die Hard’s (1988) skyscraper with a less compelling airport. It took five years for the formula to be abandoned altogether in favour of a city-wide (and much more successful) melee in the underrated Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).

Did Train to Busan even need a sequel? Of course not. Does any sequel feel truly necessary, then? The recent Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) is both technically superfluous and arguably the action film of the decade so far. The Matrix Resurrections (2021) was a belated sequel that only brought back one of the original directors, reopening a story that felt concluded—nevertheless, it’s one of my favourite films of that year.

The reason these films work isn’t because they had to be made, but because once you’ve seen them, you can’t imagine the respective series without them. Unfortunately, Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula / 반도 could be erased from memory and little of the series’ universe would be lost.

Wisely, Peninsula bypasses the mistakes of Speed 2, or even Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995), which lifted Steven Seagal’s kick-ass cook off an army ship and onto, funnily enough, a high-speed train. Yeon Sang-ho, who returns as director and this time co-writer for Peninsula is smart enough not to chuck a horde of zombies onto another mode of transport.

Though one wonders if Cruise Ship to Busan was kicked around as an idea, Peninsula is instead a heist film set mostly in the wide wasteland of the Korean peninsula. Abandoned docklands, inner cities and shopping malls are the locations for the film’s action (and inaction)—and it should be noted that if the first film successfully kept its beating heart of horror even as it ploughed into action, then Peninsula barely registers as a horror film at all.

The story follows former Korean Marine Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) who, four years after the virus outbreak, is holed up with petty criminals and down-and-outs in the underbelly of Hong Kong. Haunted by the guilt of quarantining his sister and nephew at the beginning of the outbreak, thus leaving them to die, Jung-seok looks nothing like the soldier he once was. His emo fringe and scruffy jumper make him appear 20 years younger, while paradoxically his eyes betray the weariness of a much older man.

Train to Busan’s prologue was unnecessary but thankfully brief—Peninsula makes a similar mistake but with a longer, yet still rushed prologue that dumps us into the action, demanding that we feel something for characters we’ve known for minutes. It’s appreciated that the film doesn’t spend too much time re-establishing what we already know, but the abrupt way in which the prologue begins and ends is unsatisfying.

In this prologue, we witness the first days of the virus outbreak and the events that culminated in Jung-seok’s decision to abandon his sister and nephew. It broadly attempts to replicate the themes established in the first film, with guilt and sacrifice remaining the central motifs. However, these themes are far less convincing this time around.

Gang Dong-Won, who is suitably haunted in the role, has very little room to show his range. Jung-seok is a largely repetitive, one-note character, who seems to be struggling with, a survivor’s guilt, made worse by his brother-in-law and all-round ghost at the feast, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon). As if Jung-seok isn’t miserable enough, there is little to fear—the equally troubled Chul-min won’t be far behind to add to his woes.

It isn’t that the tone is largely sulkier than the first film. Rather, it is because there is little interrogation into what grief and shame actually look like, and while the horse pulled the cart in terms of action and character in Train to Busan, here the characters are required to motivate action, and they are simply not up to the task.

The spark that lit up Train to Busan—Kim Su-an as Su-an— is sorely missed here. This raises the question of why this is a standalone film rather than a continuation of her story. This question wouldn’t be so troublesome if the new cast of characters were strong enough to fill the gap.

The forgivable clichés in the first film feel clunky and unimaginative here. Jung-seok and Chul-min, along with two entirely expendable characters, are recruited by gangsters to travel from Hong Kong to the dangerous Korean peninsula to retrieve $20,000,000 from an abandoned lorry. They’ll receive half of it back as a reward, and would then presumably have the funds to escape to a more welcoming environment.

There are some interesting threads before they depart for the mission. Their treatment as dangerous outsiders by their reluctant Hong Kong hosts hints at xenophobia, particularly the strain of anger that was directed towards Koreans during the COVID-19 outbreak. The prejudice on display when their money is refused at a bar and patrons demand they leave could have functioned as a springboard to explore these ideas further.

Those avenues are essentially abandoned the moment they embark on their mission, armed with satellite phones, machine guns, and combat fatigues. It’s pure action sequel territory—swap the money for a prisoner and this could be the plot for a Rambo sequel.

As with any fetch-quest actioner, the money is a MacGuffin, a means for the squad to interact with zombies, rogue militias and rag-tag families, all living in the rubble of the Peninsula. While Yeon Sang-ho casts his net wider, he comes back with little to show for it.

After Jung-seok’s mission goes predictably wrong and ends with Chul-min being snatched by the Militia, Jung-seok finds himself in the flat of a family who have risked their lives to save him from a horde.

Lee Jung-hyun finds it difficult to make an impression as family matriarch Min-jung, who protects her family from external forces. Her eldest daughter, Joon (Lee Re), spends most of her time driving a seemingly indestructible 4×4 through the dark city streets, smashing and crashing her way through hordes of zombies. Joon’s younger sister, Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), helps out by operating a remote-controlled car decked out with flashing lights and music, essentially used as bait for the undead, who chase after it like lemmings.

Here, the largely inert film is injected with a touch of life and playfulness. The more Yeon Sang-ho opens up his film to quirkiness, the more successful it becomes in finding its own identity. These are violent films, but not gruesome, and by focusing on Goonies-esque gadgetry, they reclaim a sense of fun and adventure.

The film isn’t entirely devoid of ideas—a zombie versus human fight club in a food court is particularly appealing—but the action sequences lack the focus and impact of the first film. Furthermore, the VFX throughout the film is utterly overwhelming and distracting.

While Train to Busan used digital effects gracefully to create and enhance images that would otherwise be impossible, Peninsula lays on the CGI with a trowel. Anything that can be digital is digital—it almost seems restrained on the part of the filmmakers that they didn’t replace the actors with animated counterparts.

The car chases are particularly egregious, and they constitute the bulk of the film’s action. While one or two instances of digital effects wouldn’t be so bothersome, during several sequences that were supposedly pulse-pounding, I found myself yearning for the simple, practical heft of Train to Busan. That’s absent here, replaced by weightless, video-game-like graphics: the car, the streets, the zombies, the buildings, and everything in between seems to be CGI—and for whole minutes at a time.

Between Train to Busan and Peninsula, Yeon Sang-ho directed the feature-length animated film Seoul Station (2016). Indeed, before the Busan saga, the director made a name for himself in adult animation, and his desire to return to his roots is visible here. Perhaps Peninsula would have functioned better as an animated film, or even one that more thoroughly embraced its digital artifice, like The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer (2008).

Instead, this falls into an awkward middle ground. The live-action work has an unpleasant digital sheen, and the animated elements stick out like a sore thumb. Coupled with the drastically reduced screentime of the zombies, Peninsula seems to make one bad choice after another, forgetting in a short space of time what was so appealing the first time around. The creativity of the fights against the undead is replaced with guns, which feels like an easy cop-out, and a way to further diminish their impact.

When an entire peninsula can be used as a playground, it is hard not to wonder why we spend most of our time in the company of bland, growling army men and crudely drawn bosses. Especially tiring is the time spent with the airless, two-dimensional big-bad Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan). He’s barely able to raise a murmur of intrigue, and tough ‘n’ gruff Sgt Hwang (Kim Min-jae) isn’t much better. The family, plus Jung-seok, must escape the rogue’s gallery and make it off the Peninsula—and Yeon Sang-ho forces contrived motivations on their relationships.

Time and time again, clunky writing bypasses narrative symmetry and instead goes for the obvious and direct. We learn one of Jung-seok’s rescuers is familiar to him from the early days of the virus. The odds of this happening in a nation of 50 million people stretches credulity, but more frustrating is the fact that the audience is not given the space to look for parallels or to hear echoes. Peninsula is instead frustratingly beholden to literalism when the saga’s real strength lies in the richness of what it suggests.

The third act is littered with action that feels junky and tacky compared to the first film’s sophistication. It once again falls back on the well-worn trope of sacrifice and guilt but offers no new insights. Insultingly, an overblown ending strives for the emotional highs of Train to Busan (even including a sobbing young girl, mirroring the first film) but instead descends into melodramatic mawkishness. It’s an unearned ending to a film that does little more than make you yearn to rewatch its predecessor.

Something irreplaceable is seriously missing—call it magic, ingenuity, spark—and as it sags fatally in the middle, you’ll have plenty of time for your mind to wander and perhaps think about where the characters in the first film might have ended up. Perhaps, just as Train to Busan prompts the question ‘what would I do in this situation?’, Peninsula prompts a question of its own: ‘what would Cruise Ship to Busan have looked like instead of this?’


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This 4K release of Peninsula certainly looks the part. Colours are rich and vibrant in the prologue, and the level of detail is astounding. Throughout the film, the HDR handles darkness remarkably well—there was no noticeable compression, and the image remained refreshingly legible. The Dolby Atmos sound is crisp and clear. This isn’t a film with a particularly noteworthy sound mix—in fact, it’s difficult to recall hearing much of a score at all. However, the action scenes sound bold and powerful, particularly during Joon’s car chase through the streets.

The below extras should only count as one. Totalling less than 10 minutes in all, and split up to pad out the menu, they’re disappointing and virtually redundant. When I watch a film (particularly one that disappoints), a good set of extras can allow for a new appreciation of elements I’d previously dismissed. There’s little here besides marketing material for a film that—if you’re watching the extras—you’ve probably just seen and own. Fans of the film will be disappointed, and should only be looking to buy the disc for the film itself.

  • Peninsula: Making Of Featurettes—The Action.
  • Peninsula: Making Of Featurettes—The Characters.
  • Peninsula: Making Of Featurettes—The Director.
  • Peninsula: Making Of Featurettes—The Sequel.
  • Trailer.
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Cast & Crew

director: Yeon Sang-ho.
writers: Yeon Sang-ho & Ryu Yong-jae.
starring: Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae, Koo Kyo-hwan, Lee Re, Lee Ye-won & Moon Woo-jin.