The cinemas are finally open!

Our cinema chains have been closed since 27 March in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and even before that cinema attendance has been on a steep decline. At one time, my wifey and I had the whole cinema to ourselves while we were watching Hitman: Agent Jun.

When the government finally allowed the cinemas to reopen on 15 July with some social distancing measures in place and a blockbuster is scheduled to open on that day, we had to brave a trip and give a leg up to one of my favourite industries. Long have they suffered. 3 months is certainly a long time for an avid movie-goer. I was pretty sure sitting in a darkened hall would be a surreal experience, like a meeting of old friends separated for too long. And it doesn’t get any better than watching a zombie apocalyptic movie where it takes less than 10 minutes for an infected person to become a zombie. The irony can really hit you in the guts.

I prefaced my review of Train to Busan: Peninsula with all the above sentimental musing because I think it will play into how I grade this spiritual sequel. Just deduct one point for a reality crushing blow.

It is four years after South Korea’s zombie apocalypse in Train to Busan (2016). Director Yeon Sang-ho brings us on another journey through the wasteland of South Korea, now overrun by zombies. Soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) makes a journey back with a rag-tag team of three others, including his brother-in-law. Their mission which they chose to accept is to recover an abandoned food truck which was transporting a princely sum of US$20 million. Things of course do not go as planned as they have to battle hordes of zombies and stumble upon human survivors. As if that’s not enough to make it a helluva tough time for the protagonists, they also have to face off with a militia group that has their own unique version of Fight Club.

Okay… Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-seok are not in this which is not surprising, but there are also no trains in this latest installment. They are cars, lots of modified cars, trucks, vans, a ship, a helicopter and lots of guns.

Gone is the high concept of putting a motley crew of characters onboard a bullet train filled with zombies and in comes a hotchpotch of recycled story ideas from Escape From New York and Mad Max: Fury Road. The canvas is bigger but it doesn’t have the same emotional heft as the original.

The characters are too one-note for my taste and they just aren’t street wise enough. The bad guy says he will give the crew half of the stash if you recover the truck. I guess only desperados will believe that. I just know they will eat a bullet if they are successful and yet these guys decide to go to Zombieland like it’s prom night.

There are some great ideas that are mentioned – the xenophobia and that North Korea is now safer than the South, but they are thrown out so fast like it’s a disease. What you have here is a straight-up survival flick that is just serviceable. This won’t be something that will stay in your mind long after the house lights come on.

Even though it loses the inventive claustrophobia of the original, it retains the problem solving element that I enjoyed tremendously. Here, cars are retro-fitted with tools that make them versatile in evading zombies. There are some action set-pieces that are inventive, in particular the gladiator rink located in a mall and the climatic car chase that will surely make you think of the Fast and Furious franchise and Mad Max. I mentioned Mad Max but Peninsula is not in the same ballpark because the night-time car chase is laden with CGI which is splotchy at best, barely hiding the impossible physics and motion of the vehicular mayhem and the marauding zombies.

It all culminates in an extended ending that hardly makes any sense. If you aren’t weaned on sappy K-dramas, you might be tearing your hair out watching human behaviour that doesn’t fall within the logical range.

But what do I know? I know one thing – in a cinema landscape that is bereft of good films, let alone blockbusters, Train to Busan: Peninsula is a godsend and it is going to bring in the moola by the truckloads.

PS – I have just learned that a COVID-19 patient visited a cinema recently. Sitting in a cinema hall for 2 hours with a person with the virus is one scary prospect. So Train to Busan: Peninsula will be the only time I will step back into the cinema for now. You can say I went through the valley of death to bring you this review 😎

3.5 / 5