Ending the longest movie drought in 30 years, The Boy and I trucked out to Orange County, where cinemas are kinda sorta open to see a Korean double-feature of Peninsula and Okay Madam.
The Koreans seem to have come to the zombie party late, relative to the western world, with Rampant (2018) and the smash hit Train to Busan (2016) which provided Ma Deong-sook the breakout role that would ultimately land him a part in the Marvel’s upcoming movie The Eternals. (Prediction: Movie will be awful and unsuccessful. He’ll be great but not in it much.) The influences of the Korean zombie movies are pretty clearly the 28 Days Later “Rage virus” style (pioneered by Return of the Living Dead) and not your mopey George Romero zombies, though as in all post-Romero zombie movies, the real monster is always Man.
Peninsula is a sequel to Train, though merely taking place in the same universe four years later with no overlap in characters, hence the Train to Busan Presents title. It’s really just another movie in the same universe. At the same time, I felt there was a connection, as the movie kept presenting flashbacks and it took place in an army base that was originally set up for rescue but which has gone feral. (The final scene of Train has the survivors finding an army base—but since they were headed to Busan and Peninsula centers around Inchon on the other side of the country, it seems unlikely to be the same base.)
The hook here is a bunch of people have escaped Korea and are living in Hong Kong, where they’re being treated quite badly by the Chinese, who suspect them of carrying the disease and also of being Korean. This part of the movie is in badly pronounced English which is kind of cool because you’re thinking “I can understand Korean!” but, no, English is the, em, lingua franca between Asians, it seems.
Anyway, our refugees are offered a chance by some very dodgy individuals: Go back to the peninsula (Korea) and retrieve a truck containing 20 million dollars (in Ben Franklins, no less) and split it with these dodgy guys. Then you can live a life of luxury and not care that everyone in Hong Kong hates you. It’s too much for our rag-tag team to turn down, though the most reluctant of the group is, naturally, the most capable and heroic. He goes out of an obligation to help one of the others, whose wife and children he had to sacrifice in order to save everyone else.
The trick is this: The zombies are basically blind at night. So if you move fast and quiet you can get around okay. And in the least surprising development, things don’t go as planned. Turns out the rogue army base likes to go around and light up the areas around any “wild dogs” scavenging. Those that aren’t killed are rounded up for games of “Plants vs. Zombies” where they play the role of the plants. There are also some “wild dogs” who have survived the past four years outsmarting the increasingly insane army guys—this is what happens when you have a draft, if you ask me—and the movie becomes a chase centered around the $20M and how to use it to get off the peninsula.
It’s basically 28 Months Later with elements of Road Warrior and Escape from New York, and that was okay with us. I felt some of the dramatic parts were strung out too long, and some other action-movie-shorthand-tropes were a little too short hand: For example, one of the major characters is a “wild dog” who escaped from the army base when it started going nuts and who lives with her two young daughters. The older of the two is probably twelve and expert driver. (It was unclear to me how she would ever gain expertise in that context, but whatever.) At one point, the mother knows the hero is going to strike the army base to rescue his former companion. I couldn’t figure out why she would know that. I couldn’t figure out why she would wait. Later, I couldn’t figure out why she would risk her life to save him. (The only thing I could figure is that she thought he might be useful getting her girls out, but I’m doing a lot of heavy lifting at the point.)
The acting is good and the set design is good. It’s more convincing when it’s humans in an (obviously CGI) backdrop, and less so when there’s any car chase (which is all clearly CGI). Critics are “meh” about this one but audiences like it okay (it made $4M opening day at the box office in Korea, which is apparently a record), and we’d put ourselves in the latter camp. It’s frothy fun with characters to love and hate, and it’s not boring. Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, who wrote and directed both Train to Busan and the animated prequel that led to it. (The hero, Dong-Won Gong, was in 1987: When The Day Comes but that was one of those movies where I was just struggling to figure out what was going on, so I didn’t recognize him here.)
Worth a watch. And our first post-pandemic movie!