Train to Busan 2 goes by a variety of names but the one that works best for me is Train to Busan Presents Peninsula (rather than Train to Busan: Peninsula, or plain old Peninsula), because this best encapsulates what the film is: a film from the Train to Busan people rather than another go around on the zombie killer.
The original film, a classic, takes place pretty much in one place, on board a train heading for Busan, onto which a person infected with a zombie virus has climbed. While the virus runs riot through the train, its selfish non-infected passengers learn the value of banding together for safety. Outside the train, as Yeon Sang-ho’s camera repeatedly shows us, the zombies don’t need the lesson – they throw themselves en masse at any problem. Speeding train? Just grab hold of it in sufficient numbers and slow it to a halt! The zombies in the first film were an advert for the power of collective action.
Yeon’s sequel kicks off four years after Korea has been in absolute quarantine – couldn’t be more topical in 2020 – with four Korean survivors in Hong Kong struggling as refugees (again, topical) taking up an offer to go back into Incheon in Korea to rescue a van stacked with US dollars.
There is no train to get on because there is no infrastructure in Korea any more. The intrepid foursome arrive to find Incheon in ruins and full of zombies. Soon enough they’re in backs-to-the-wall mode, even though finding the truck – in a city full of abandoned trucks – has been no problem at all. What they hadn’t bargained on was a rogue militia of survivors called Unit 361, a raggle-taggle bunch of louts who run things in Incheon, and use any human survivors they find for sport – in gladiatorial man v zombie contests.
So, no, there’s no train in Train to Busan 2. What’s more surprising is that this isn’t really a zombie film either. It’s more like Escape from New York, with Gang Dong-Won, Busan born as it happens, as a Kurt Russell equivalent called Jung trying to fight his way out of Dodge while everyone else is out to get him. Bandanas and greasy combat gear optional.
Separated from his band of fellow mercenaries – most of whom are dead anyway – Jung attaches himself to an empathy engine, a family of survivors headed by Min Jung (Lee Jung-hyun), her two cute girls (Lee Ye-Won, Lee Re) and their grandfather (Kwon Hae-hyo), who at first appears to have been infected by the zombie virus but is in fact just overacting.
And that’s it. This gang struggling to survive, with or without a truck full of cash, while the cold, shiny-faced Sergeant Hwang feeds fresh prisoners to the zombies he has trapped in cages back at Unit 361 HQ. Bread and circuses.
Out on what looks too often like a film set, meanwhile, other zombies are being mown down in their thousands as Jung and crew try to evade capture/try to leave town/try to rescue the cash/try to call in help with the aid of a satellite phone.
The original film’s power came from its claustrophobic on-board setting, with the sacrificial collectivism of the zombies in the wider world as an added bonus. There is no on-board this time, and though there is the odd glimpse of the zombie horde, they’re not the enemy, that’s Sergeant Hwang and Unit 361.
As said, the kids are cute, and Lee Re’s Jooni has driving skills that are impressive, even if the CG sometimes lets her down, but as I was watching her ploughing, scything and mowing her way through yet another field of frenzied zombies, I started wondering just what sort of tyres would withstand that sort of treatment. That’s not a good sign.
The first Busan film was intense, and most suited to being watched in dread-filled silence. This is more your shout-at-the-screen, John Carpenter-inflected affair, brilliant source material for a drinking game – one shot for a snarling militiaman, one for a zombie under the wheels.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020