Korean cinema is so hot right now.
Truth be told, the Korean film industry has punched above its weight for years but the mainstream Western audience is finally taking notice, which has more than a little to do with Bong Joon-ho winning four Academy Awards for last year’s masterpiece Parasite.
An example of a brilliant Korean film that predates Parasite, but that you might have missed, is director Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016 zombie thriller Train to Busan.
It tells the story of a zombie apocalypse rapidly unfolding on the Korean Peninsula, from the perspective of a father and daughter trapped on a train. And we’re talking freakishly athletic zombies, not the lurching sort that are more of a nuisance than a genuine menace. You may have scrolled past Train to Busan when the Netflix algorithm delivered it to your TV but you really should check it out — it’s a dead-set ripper, regardless of genre.
Now, Sang-ho is back, with Peninsula, a standalone sequel set four years after the events of the previous film, and its epic action could not be more welcome at a time when multiplexes are bereft of blockbusters.
With an entirely new cast, the film follows Marine Captain Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), who successfully escaped to Hong Kong, only to be coerced back to the zombie-infested Korean Peninsula as part of a heist.
Zombies crave human flesh, not filthy lucre, so there is some logic behind risking life and limb for a big payday, especially if, like Jung-seok, you don’t have much to live for anyway.
However, what should be an in-and-out mission quickly unravels — zombies, can’t live with them, can’t complete a heist without them — with Jung-seok realising the humans left in the port city of Incheon are every bit as bloodthirsty as the walking dead.
Just when things start really looking grim, our hero finds an unlikely ally in a family of survivors, complete with a couple of cute kids, who have developed a variety of innovative techniques for staying alive. Dong-won is a charismatic presence in the lead role, and his real-life military service (Korea has compulsory military service, FYI) gives the many action sequences a level of believability that makes up for some iffy CGI car scenes.
He gets great support from the cast, particularly actress and K-Pop star Lee Jung-hyun, who is wonderfully earnest as the matriarch of the survivor family.
Do yourself a favour and watch Train to Busan, which admittedly is better, then make a beeline for a cinema to see Peninsula in all its gory glory.
RATING: Three and a half stars.