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Focused, frenzied and packed to capacity with social comment, 2016’s South Korean zombie barnstormer Train to Busan revitalised a genre in an advanced state of decomposition. Its sequel – not counting the animated prequel Seoul Station – unfortunately reverts to type, favouring CGI-overloaded snafus rather than the tight set-pieces and class-based rancour that made the first film so gripping.
Gang Dong-won plays Jung Seok, a broken soldier who’s escaped the Korean peninsula, now overrun by the zombie plague and in permanent lockdown. But while he’s exiled in Hong Kong, the local triad goons make him an offer he can’t refuse: that he lead a group inside Seoul to recover $20m sitting in the back of a truck after a thwarted previous extraction.
Crossing the zombie flick with the heist movie promises an enlivening hybrid. But the robbery element is fairly quickly dispensed with, at which point director Yeon Sang-ho seems only to want to trudge in the footsteps of past post-apocalyptic cinema, notably Escape from New York and Mad Max. A rogue military outfit, Unit 631, now run this sector of the city, and find entertainment in throwing any human survivors they find into cage-fighting-style melees with the viral undead.
Yeon injects little new life into these gnawed genre cast-offs. Despite an early mention that north of the DMZ there is no virus, the film isn’t interested in the north-south split that haunts so much Korean cinema. Instead its eye is on a different international dimension, with the expanded English-language dialogue quotient suggesting a push towards global franchise status. But the generic blockbuster feel rips the roots from Yeon’s trademark caustic misanthropy, which has fed so productively off South Korean hyper-capitalism since his 2011 animation The King of Pigs.
Peninsula looks pretty when motionless, with penumbral, ochre-lit vistas of the shattered city. But the action sequences are filled with horrible, weightless sub-videogame CGI, disintegrating into World War Z-style zombie soup. A film about a virus-ravaged country under lockdown should be able to hit cogent parallels at will at the moment – but a numbing repetition is sadly the main payout.
• Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is released on 6 November in cinemas and on 23 November on digital formats.
Source: The Guardian
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