Far too often, sequels just rehash what was already done in the original. You can't say that about Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula. This follow-up to the 2016 South Korean horror hit is tied to its predecessor, yet definitely goes in a new direction. Whereas the first one was a locomotive-set zombie story that threw in a glorious new plot development every fifteen minutes or so, Peninsula is more of a heist picture that just happens to be set amid a zombie outbreak. Same world, different characters and scenarios. It doesn't generate the mounting dread that Train to Busan did. On the other hand, the film has its own brand of cleverness that makes it an enjoyable watch.
Our hero is Jung-seok (Dong-wan Gang), a former soldier still grappling with the fallout from the outbreak. Now a civilian living in Hong Kong, he agrees to take part in a scheme being hatched by a local criminal. Somewhere in the wasteland port city of Incheon is a truck containing $20 million. All Jung-seok and a few other team members have to do is sneak into the city, locate the truck, and bring the cash back home. Of course, that's easier said than done. Not only are there zombies lurking around, there is also another gang looking for the truck.
Peninsula quickly separates Jung-seok from the others. He crosses paths with a woman from his past, Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), and her family. Her two daughters, Joon-i (Lee Ra) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), have figured out how to scavenge around the city effectively. The older one drives like Vin Diesel in a Fast & Furious movie, while the younger one uses a light-filled remote control car to draw zombies away. (They can't see in the dark and therefore gravitate toward light.) Meanwhile, Jung-seok's brother-in-law, Chul-min (Do-yoon Kim), becomes enslaved by the rival gang.
Train to Busan was a film about morality. As the threat of confinement with zombies became increasingly perilous, the characters had to make constant decisions about whether to save themselves or try to help others. Peninsula has very little of that. Half of it is like Baby Driver, with Jung-seok and the girls mowing down hordes of zombies with an SUV. The other half is reminiscent of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, as Chul-min is forced to participate in gladiatorial battles against the undead.
Knowing this beforehand is important. Anyone going in expecting to have the same type of experience they had with Train to Busan may feel disappointed. View the film on its own terms, though, and you'll find plenty to be entertained by. The automobile chases are exciting, with zombies getting run over or broadsided. A different form of action comes in Chul-min's subplot. It offers martial arts fighting as zombies are unleashed upon humans in a coliseum. Director Sang-ho Yeon stages all of it with energy and creativity. And so that no one thinks this sequel is empty when it comes to substance, the story between Jung-seok and Min-jung pays off in an emotionally satisfying way.
Train to Busan is a masterpiece of zombie horror. Peninsula simply isn't on that level. It's still a lot of fun, provided you're willing to accept that it has no interest in repeating much from the original. Sang-ho Yeon is brave enough to forge a different path for the second installment. Seeing where he takes a third could be a real trip.
out of four
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is unrated but contains adult language and bloody creature violence. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.