Movies

Review| Peninsula movie review: Train to Busan meets Mad Max and Escape from New York in disappointing zombie sequel

  • Gang Dong-won heads an all-new cast as an overseas marine coerced to retrieve US$20 million in abandoned cash from zombie-ravaged South Korea
  • While its predecessor was propelled by a breathless immediacy, Peninsula’s prominent action too often feels weightless and cartoonlike

Gang Dong-won in a still from Peninsula (category IIB; Korean), directed by Yeon Sang-ho and co-starring Lee Jung-hyun and Kim Min-jae.

2.5/5 stars

Four years after Train to Busan thundered into cinemas to become the most successful Asian film of all time in Hong Kong, Korean writer-director Yeon Sang-ho has returned with Peninsula, the hugely anticipated sequel to his zombie juggernaut.

The film was originally scheduled to open July 15 in Hong Kong, the same day as its South Korea release, but a new round of Covid-19 cases in the city has seen it temporarily shelved. Internationally, the film is likely to creep, virus-like, into markets as they ease lockdown restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic – fitting for a movie set during a deadly, invisible plague.

Gang Dong-won heads an all-new cast as Jung-seok, a marine evacuated to the relative safety of Hong Kong, who is coerced back to retrieve US$20 million in abandoned cash. Promised half of anything recovered, Jung-seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) return to an urban wasteland now ravaged by zombies, where pockets of survivors are terrorised by violent militias.

Released in some markets with a “Train to Busan presents” prefix, Peninsula does itself no favours hitching its wagon so prominently to Yeon’s earlier success, which so perfectly balanced apocalyptic horror with sly social commentary.

The 2016 film’s carriage of vividly realised characters is replaced with vaguely sketched archetypes: Lee Jung-hyun’s gun-toting mother-of-two, Kim Min-jae’s snarling mercenary, Koo Kyo-hwan’s slippery kingpin. Instead of fleshed out relationships, characters are now merely related.

A still from Peninsula.
A still from Peninsula.

Best among the new additions are Lee Re and Lee Ye-won, a pair of gung-ho, pint-sized siblings as adept at offing the undead as any of their adult co-stars. But after a show-stopping introduction in the film’s most memorable sequence, even they are largely ignored.

Yeon advances zombie lore, making his monsters vulnerable to both light and sound, but otherwise Peninsula is less zombie movie than dystopian actioner, borrowing liberally from the Mad Max franchise to include a Thunderdome-style arena and a climactic car chase featuring a convoy of customised vehicles. However, it is John Carpenter’s Escape from New York that emerges as the film’s most frequent stylistic touchstone.

Where its predecessor was propelled by a breathless immediacy, Peninsula’s prominent action too often feels weightless and cartoonlike, which is ironic considering the grim, realistic tone of Yeon’s earlier animated works.

Lee Jung-hyun in a still from Peninsula.
Lee Jung-hyun in a still from Peninsula.
Gang Dong-won (front) and Kim Do-yoon in a still from Peninsula
Gang Dong-won (front) and Kim Do-yoon in a still from Peninsula

Hong Kong audiences may be amused that their city is portrayed as populated by Koreans speaking mangled Cantonese. But there is no escaping that Peninsula is a major disappointment.

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Review | Double World movie review: new on Netflix, Teddy Chan’s video-game adaptation is big on CGI, but not on emotion

  • An adaptation of online video game Zhengtu, Double World features so many characters that their biggest battle is for adequate screen time
  • The technical craftsmanship throughout the film is hard to fault, but character development is practically non-existent
Henry Lau in a still from Double World, now streaming on Netflix and iQiyi. Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Teddy Chan, the movie co-stars Peter Ho and Lin Chenhan.
Henry Lau in a still from Double World, now streaming on Netflix and iQiyi. Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Teddy Chan, the movie co-stars Peter Ho and Lin Chenhan.

2.5/5 stars

Packed to the rafters with rugged heroes, duplicitous villains, terrifying monsters and relentless action, Double World has all the trappings of an epic adventure. So why is the Hong Kong filmmaker Teddy Chan Tak-sum’s first directing effort since 2014’s Donnie Yen vehicle Kung Fu Jungle such a chore to watch?

Now streaming on iQiyi in mainland China and Netflix in the rest of the world, this effects-laden adaptation of online video game Zhengtu features so many characters, each on their own quest for power, revenge or enlightenment, that their on-screen skirmishes often come second to their battles for adequate screen time.

Chen, probably most acclaimed for 2009’s Bodyguards and Assassins , reduces this tangled web of intersecting stories to a series of slickly executed, but narratively mechanical, clichés. After all, why include an emotional character moment when we could be watching our heroes battle a dragon or fight to the death inside a burning colosseum?

A fantastical, reimagined version of ancient China is divided into the warring regions of Northern Yan and Southern Zhao. Following an assassination attempt on the young Southern King (Wang Ziyi), the scheming Grand Tutor Guan (Hu Ming) proposes a contest to elect a new grand field martial, who will help restore order to the region. Each of the eight clans will send three contenders to compete in a series of deadly gladiatorial contests in Phoenix City.

Dong Yilong (Henry Lau), an orphan street rat from remote Qingyuan, finds himself nominated to represent his clan alongside Chu Hun (Peter Ho Yun-tung), a world-weary soldier who wields a broken spear. After losing their original teammate en route, they recruit plucky young thief Jinggang (Lin Chenhan) as their third member, and are soon facing off against the kingdom’s most formidable warriors, including Him Law Chung-him’s royal bodyguard.

Into this already crowded arena, screenwriters Liu Fendou and Wen Ning squeeze in Jiang Luxia’s feral assassin and Shi Shi as an almost spectral reminder to Yilong that, while he is there, he must seek out his father’s true identity.

(From left) Henry Lau, Peter Ho and Lin Chenhan in a still from Double World.
(From left) Henry Lau, Peter Ho and Lin Chenhan in a still from Double World.

What the film lacks is any real surprises, as Yilong, Chu Hun and the other competitors spin and kick their way through an endless procession of adept, if uninspiring, fight sequences.

The technical craftsmanship throughout Double World is hard to fault, but character development is practically non-existent. It is all well and good to celebrate the film’s surprisingly assured CGI work, but it is wasted effort when the numerous betrayals, revelations and heroic deaths on display fail to stir emotions.

Double World is streaming on Netflix.

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