Fans of the zombie genre (and Asian cinema) are no doubt familiar with the 2016 Korean zombie horror film, Train to Busan, in which passengers aboard a speeding train must fight off ravenous zombies to survive long enough to reach their destination—and safety. Now we have the first trailer for a follow-up film, Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, produced by James Wan (Insidious, Aquaman), and it looks like it will be just as much of a thrill-ride as its predecessor.
(Some spoilers for the 2016 film and animated prequel below.)
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, the original Train to Busan might be described as Snowpiercer with zombies, with a dash of World War Z and Mad Max: Fury Road thrown in for good measure. But that doesn’t really do the film justice. Gong Yoo stars as Seok-woo, a divorced, workaholic fund manager who missed his daughter Su-an’s singing recital and decides to take her to visit her mother in Busan for her birthday to make it up to her.
Just as the train is pulling out of the station, a young woman jumps aboard, already infected with a strange sickness. She turns into a zombie, and, well, you know how this goes: the plague spreads rapidly throughout the train. The survivors do their best to stick together against the zombie horde but must contend with inevitable complications—such as having to change trains at a station overrun with the undead.
The film earned largely rave reviews from critics—Edgar Wright, who directed the 2004 zom-com Shaun of the Dead, called it “the best zombie movie I’ve seen in forever” on Twitter—and it grossed $93 million globally. What set Train to Busan apart from typical zombie fare was the skillful mix of well-drawn characters and social commentary—something at which Korean entertainment currently excels (see: Parasite, Kingdom). It let audiences witness the rapid spread of the disease along with the passengers as the train passed through city after infected city.
I especially appreciated how well it captures the complexities of human nature in the midst of a terrifying epidemic, with people behaving both altruistically and selfishly (the latter often to the detriment of survival). For example, surviving passengers holed up in a train car refuse to let other survivors in, leading to the death of one of a pair of elderly sisters. The remaining sister deliberately lets the zombies into the car in revenge. But for every character who escapes by ruthlessly pushing someone else into a zombie’s path, there are those who nobly sacrifice themselves so that others may live—the best and worse of humanity.
Just a few months after Train to Busan hit theaters, Yeon Sang-ho released a critically acclaimed animated prequel, Seoul Station. Set in the same fictional universe, it tells the story of a young runaway girl, Hye-Sun (Shim Eun-kyung) struggling to escape her life as a sex worker, just as a zombie outbreak hits the city.
Peninsula is also set in that universe, although Yeon has emphasized that it is not a sequel, and it features entirely new characters and a new storyline. Per the official premise: “Four years after the events of Train to Busan, there is nothing left of Korea except its geography. A crew on a retrieval mission comes under attack and, in the process, discovers more survivors.”
The trailer makes clear that the zombie outbreak has devastated the region, which has been largely abandoned to the undead. A soldier who survived, Jeong-seok (Gang Dong-won) is part of the covert military operation returning to the infected zone, one assumes for scavenging purposes. Many of the human survivors they encounter seem to have largely gone feral, forcing people to fight to the death against zombies. The corpses hanging from the rafters suggest refusing to fight is only a slightly better option. There are literally only two lines of dialogue in the trailer: a panicked soldier screaming “Block the entrance!” and a little girl asking Jeong-seok if he was scared. But who needs dialogue with all that heart-pumping action? It remains to be seen whether the sequel will have the same depth and heart of its predecessors.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula was originally slated for release August 12, 2020, but that’s currently up in the air due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Fingers crossed that theaters might open again before them. Meanwhile, if Korean zombie horror is your jam, you can always watch (or rewatch) Train to Busan, Seoul Station, or even the fantastic Netflix series Kingdom while you’re waiting.
Listing image by Well Go USA Entertainment