South Korea managed the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic unusually nicely, which is principally the alternative of how Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016 “Prepare to Busan” predicted the nation would possibly react to such a catastrophe. In a style of principally forgettable flesh-eating thrillers, Yeon’s cult zombie hit stood out as one of many extra entertaining, coupling native paranoia — about corrupt leaders and overzealous navy, in an oblique critique of the scandalously mismanaged 2014 Sewol ferry accident — with a kooky but efficient “Snakes on a Aircraft”-style conceit: What if an outbreak occurred on a contained, fast-moving practice? (One thing comparable occurred — minus the zombies — when the coronavirus struck a number of worldwide cruise ships earlier this 12 months.)
Earlier than, that “Can they get to Busan earlier than the zombies get them?” dynamic targeted Yeon on delivering a kinetic, character-driven motion film. However the franchise’s subsequent installments (beginning with the nasty feature-length animated prequel “Seoul Station”) have felt comparatively unfocused by comparability. In accordance to Yeon’s cynical worldview, dark-hearted people could be far scarier than the undead. The identical holds true within the director’s ugly and all-around disagreeable “Peninsula” — chosen for the canceled 2020 Cannes Movie Competition, and already a field workplace success in South Korea — which picks up 4 years later with a a lot bleaker imaginative and prescient for the nation.
Other than a smattering of survivors, South Korea has been deserted, its once-ultra-modern mega-cities diminished to apocalyptic ruins. Within the earlier movies, Yeon wreaked devastation on Busan and Seoul, and right here he turns his consideration to the port metropolis of Incheon, now a smoldering wasteland, its skyscrapers darkish and bridges mendacity damaged like large carcasses in an elephant graveyard. Someplace within the zombie-infested metropolis sits a truck loaded with $20 million in U.S. forex, simply ready for somebody brave sufficient to come again and get well it.
The problem falls to 4 Korean refugees, bored with being handled like second-class residents in close by Hong Kong, and satisfied that they will retrieve the loot beneath the quilt of darkness — since zombies are believed to be “blind at evening.” To say that the small squad has vastly underestimated the problem of the mission can be an understatement, though the zombies aren’t practically as menacing because the still-uninfected people who’ve managed to evade all of them this time. A rowdy band of mercenaries referred to as Unit 361 roam the town in packs, scavenging for meals and rounding up stragglers, whom they pressure to compete in merciless enviornment video games.
It’s not that the zombies aren’t a menace (there’s a seemingly infinite provide of them lurking on the market), however they’re virtually incidental in a sequel that strives for extra of a “Mad Max” really feel, pitting these 4 desperadoes towards the closely armed people who now run Incheon. Big chunks of the film are devoted to bonkers cross-city chase scenes that really feel just like the CG equal of classic “Velocity Racer” sequences, as digitally rendered autos drift alongside frictionless roads. However it appears a waste to make a zombie film, solely to scale back the lumbering brain-eaters to faceless machine-gun fodder, or roadkill splattered towards the windshield of rushing SUVs.
There’s nonetheless the chance that one of many 4 might get bitten, though now, as an alternative of watching harmless folks flee for survival, the story includes a gaggle of vaguely sketched characters recklessly placing themselves at risk — in horror-movie phrases, the equal of dead-meat coeds venturing upstairs once we know there’s a serial killer mendacity in wait. That makes “Peninsula” far more troublesome for normal audiences to establish with, placing the strain on Yeon to invent set-pieces that justify what looks like a suicide mission.
Among the many staff members, Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) emerges as essentially the most compelling, seen on the outset making an attempt to escape the preliminary outbreak, a problem that referred to as for a troublesome resolution to depart a household stranded alongside the highway. Jung-seok’s been wrestling together with his guilt all these years — though, to be truthful, characters made far tougher judgment calls each 5 minutes in “Prepare to Busan.” That film had a sort of simple-minded however easy morality that tended to work itself out, as those that made powerful sacrifices have been handled as heroes, whereas grasping and self-interested events met grotesque fates.
The dilemmas aren’t fairly so elegant right here, although there’s one thing karmic about giving Jung-seok a second likelihood, as the girl he deserted, Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), and her two daughters, Joon-i (Lee Ra) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), might be the important thing to making it out alive. Right here, the presence of kids — just like the imperiled siblings within the “Jurassic Park” motion pictures — appears like a ploy to enchantment to the youthful phase of a four-quadrant viewers, who would possibly respect such cute concepts as utilizing a disco-lit RC automotive to distract the zombies.
Whereas a lot of the film takes place in a grubby, blue-tinged murk — a mix of hokey day-for-night lensing and digital set extensions that’s badly fitted to dwelling viewing, however would possibly look scary in darkened theaters — day breaks simply in time for a giant, Michael Bay-style climax. The movie has clipped alongside at a fairly brisk tempo till this level, solely to downshift right into a laughably protracted slow-motion finale, stuffed with gratuitous lens flares and overwrought strings.
The villains to date have been a pair of Unit 361 leaders, Capt. Search engine marketing (Koo Gyo-hwan) and Sgt. Hwang (Kim Min-jae), though the zombies stay all the time on the perimeters, prepared to rush the scene as required to lend that further jolt of jeopardy. Throughout the 20-minute chase from the middle of city to the port of Incheon, they swarm as they did in “World Conflict Z,” like so many CG lemmings, plunging from bridges and ambling into the roadway. By the tip, it’s inconceivable to say what number of of them there are, or the place they’re in relation to the characters, past that there are extra of them, sufficient to populate the following movie within the franchise.