IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: PENINSULA (2020)

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PENINSULA (2020)

Korean horror/thriller is a fun, if not extremely derivative, sequel to the 2016 zombie outbreak flick Train To Busan. This installment takes place four years later with the Korean Peninsula abandoned and quarantined by the rest of the world. A barren, zombie infested wasteland. Ex-soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) now lives in Hong Kong, with his brother in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) and the two relocated Koreans are treated like outcasts and live in squalor. A local mobster offers the duo a chance to make enough money to get themselves out of the gutter. They and some other expatriated Koreans are tasked with going back into the quarantine zone and retrieving a truck filled with $20 million in American dollars. The heist goes awry and Jung-seok finds to his horror that there are two groups of survivors still living there, a family he’s encountered before and an ex-military unit who may be more dangerous than the hordes of flesh eating undead. Can Jung-seok, Chul-min and their new allies get out alive against both hungry zombies and crazed soldiers?

Yeon Sang-ho again directs with a script from he and Park Joo-suk. This sequel isn’t quite as much of a roller coaster ride as Train, but is still entertaining. While Train put a fresh coat of paint on the well-worn zombie sub-genre, Peninsula seems content to spin a yarn that is parts of Romero’s Day and Land of the Dead, a large portion of the Governor story arc from The Walking Dead and part Road Warrior with a last act truck chase. The film is more concerned with the drama between the human factions and while there are plenty of zombie’s, they do take a back seat to Jung-seok and pretty survivor Min-jun (Lee Jung-hyun) trying to get the truck and Chul-min back from the Unit 631 compound, which is run by the vicious Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae) and demented Captain Seo. It’s entertaining, yes, but seems far less fresh and far less energetic than the previous flick. Train was nothing new, but Peninsula seems to make less of an effort to revitalize it’s familiar tale. Another thing that holds it back is a heavy use of only moderately effective CGI. A lot of the zombie action and the truck chase at the end are obvious CGI effects and it takes away it’s effectiveness. The truck chase looks like a video game at times and it keeps us from being too drawn in like Road Warrior‘s intense chase finale. In between we get innocents forced to battle zombies for entertainment and a preconscious child who always outsmarts and saves the adults. There is a lot of bloody violence, but nothing too gory and Yeon Sang-ho does paint an impressive apocalyptic picture of the abandoned and zombie infested South Korea. The movie adds the appropriate melodrama with Jung-seok haunted by his past, and his link to Min-jun and her daughters. This gives the film a little emotional content and at the end we are entertained, but it is far less memorable than it’s predecessor.

The cast are all solid. Gang Dong-won makes a good hero as the guilt-ridden, ex- soldier Jung-seok. He plays his inner turmoil well and he is a good action hero. Lee Jung-hyun is a solid heroine as mother and survivor Min-jun. She’s tough and quite the fighter, but still has her humanity. Lee Ye-Won is cute and thankfully avoids being annoying, in the precocious child role of younger daughter Yoo-Jin and Lee Re is likable as her tough teen sister Jooni. Kim Do-yoon is also fine as the embattled Chul-min, who is captured by Unit 631. Rounding out are Kim Min-jae as the cruel and vicious Sergeant Hwang, who is Sang-ho’s equivalent of Day of the Dead’s Captain Rhodes, and Koo Kyo-hwan as the desperate and deceptive Captain Seo. A good cast.

So, in conclusion, while it’s not an equal, Peninsula is still an action packed and entertaining sequel to Train To Busan. While it’s predecessor also reused a lot of ideas from past zombie epics, it seemed far fresher than the recycled ideas do here in this second installment. At almost two hours long this is still a fast paced and sometimes bloody adventure, though not quite as energetic and intense as Train To Busan. Familiar, not quite as energized, but still fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bullets, which a lot of fly in this movie.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: THE QUAKE aka SKJELVET (2018)

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THE QUAKE aka SKJELVET (2018)

Norwegian disaster flick is a sequel to Roar (Tomb Raider, Cold Prey) Uthaug’s The Wave and continues the story of Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner). It’s three years after the devastating wave in Geiranger and while Eikjord is seen by most as a hero, he himself is tormented with guilt that his warning could have been made sooner. He is separated from wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and his children, son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), who now live in Oslo. When a friend’s death in a tunnel signals Kristian that a massive earthquake could be imminent there, the nightmare begins all over again as he tries to warn authorities and get his family to safety.

John Andreas Andersen takes over directing reigns from Uthaug with a script from Wave writers John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg. He does a great job not only in creating some intense drama to get us emotionally invested in the returning characters, but some nail-biting suspense when the inevitable finally happens. Much like the last film, it’s a bit smaller scaled than the typical CGI filled mega-budget Hollywood disaster films and focuses on the human drama, though the devastation is quite impressive. There are some truly gripping scenes as Eikjord tries to rescue his wife and daughter from the top floor of a collapsing hotel, with the help of his dead friend’s daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen). It can be quite intense and nerve-wracking, especially in the last act and the human melodrama is kept at a realistic level and thus far more effective than if it was over-the-top like most films of this ilk. The FX are once again top notch, for a moderately budgeted film and the Norwegian locations are a refreshing relief from the usual world famous big city locales these movies usually choose. If the film has any flaws it’s that it’s over a bit suddenly, when one expected more and characters are suddenly safe when they were still in the danger zone when last seen. Some transitional shots would have helped. These are minor complaints when stacked up against what director Andersen does deliver.

The cast all return as the Eikjord family. Kristoffer Joner once again makes a solid everyman hero. This time Kristian is a man tearing himself apart by guilt that he couldn’t have saved more in the tsunami in Geiranger, but must do it all over again in Oslo. A good actor making the part very human. Ane Dahl Torp is again strong as Idun. She still loves her husband and is trying to be understanding and sympathetic, even though his new warnings appear as paranoia to her. Jonas Hoff Oftebro is good as the now college age Sondre, though he doesn’t have all that much screen time and Edith Haagenrud-Sande is very solid as young Julia, especially as she is involved with a lot of the action. Pretty Kathrine Thorborg Johansen is also a welcome edition as Marit, the strong-willed daughter of Kristian’s lost friend and quite the action heroine herself.

Overall, it’s a fun movie and every bit an equal to it’s predecessor. It’s human drama is done on a realistic level and thus emotionally invests the audience in the characters. It’s title event comes in the last act and delivers some really nail-biting suspense scenes as the characters we’ve come to like are thrust into highly dangerous situations. The FX are spectacular for a modestly budgeted film and director John Andreas Andersen fills Roar Uthaug’s shoes quite nicely. A really solid and very entertaining disaster sequel from Norway. Would love to see a threequel if they could find a way to get Eikjord back in action without seeming forced or redundant which The Quake avoids.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) little girls who should have stayed in the car like dad told her to.

 

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

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TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

Korean horror/thriller is a fun mash-up of zombie outbreak flick and disaster movie that may be familiar in it’s story elements, but uses them very well. The plot has self absorbed businessman, Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) in the middle of a divorce and taking his young daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an) on an early train to Busan to see her mother. Meanwhile, a leak at the YS Biotech plant starts some kind of viral reaction that turns people into vicious killers who spread the infection through their bite. One of the infected gets on the train and now, while the outbreak spins out of control in the country all around them, the infection starts to spread throughout the cars. Trapped with increasing numbers of the infected onboard, the survivors must battle for their lives against the mindless killers, as well as, the selfish living who would sacrifice others for their own survival. But there is hope, as their destination, the district of Busan, has become one of the only safe havens left…now they must live long enough to get there.

Park Joo-suk’s script is very reminiscent of flicks like 28 Days Later and World War Z with some familiar disaster film elements thrown in, like the pretentious ass (Kim Ui-Seong) who thinks his life is worth more than that of others and the pregnant lady (Jung Yu-mi) fighting for both her and her baby’s survival. But it is Yeon Sang-ho’s tight and skilled direction that takes the routine and familiar elements and really uses them well. He has a background in animated films and this helps him keep the action fast and furious and the film is visually satisfying and very colorful with a surprisingly bright color palette for a zombie film. There is quite a lot of bloodshed, though Sang-ho restricts it to an R-rated level and we don’t get the Romero or even Walking Dead level gore…though the film really doesn’t need it, as tension and suspense are more it’s focus. The director does gives us plenty of that, but doesn’t leave out character development or social commentary, which is added at just the right amounts. The film moves quickly, but does stop to let us catch our breath for a few moments, or to let certain plot points and events resonate. There are a few clever twists, such as the zombies not being able to see in the dark and for his first live action film, Sang-ho does freshen up the many clichés. There are a few slow spots here and there and one element of the climax gets a bit over-sentimental, but otherwise this is a solid thriller with a good cast of characters and high quality production value all around.

With his horde of zombies being very effective, the director does guide his cast of human characters well, too, even if they are mostly all stereotypes. Gong Yoo is the selfish workaholic, Seok-Woo, who has ignored his wife and daughter to the point of divorce and alienation. Obviously, he learns to be more selfless and to be a hero during these dire events. Kim Su-an is very sweet as his neglected daughter and she handles her part very well, being likable and sympathetic without getting in the way or being annoying. She’s a tough and strong-willed kid played by a promising young actress. Jung Yu-mi is the stereotypical pregnant lady, but she gives her Seong-kyeong some fighting spirit and keeps her from being a helpless damsel. Ma Dong-Seok is solid as her husband, Sang-Hwa, the traditional tough guy character who shames the selfish lead into becoming more heroic. Rounding out the main cast is Kim Ui-Seong as a ruthless businessman who thinks he is more important than the others and will risk everyone else to insure his own survival. A very stereotypical character for this kind of film played to perfection by the actor. We hate Yong-suk and want to see him get his. A good cast that add some dimension to characters typical of both the zombie and disaster genres.

One of the benefits of living in an area with a heavy Asian population, aside from the yummy authentic food and great markets, is that my local theater occasionally will play a high-profile Korean film complete with subtitles. I just started hearing good word about this when I noticed it had opened at my favorite movie haunt right here in town. Seeing this in a theater was definitely a plus and despite being very familiar with it’s plot and story elements, a skilled director used them very well and delivered a fast paced and suspenseful flick that overcame familiarity with simple fun. It’s well-crafted and takes itself just serious enough, so we do too. It’s spatters plenty of blood, piles up a significant body count and has enough furious action to be effective despite the heavy ‘been there, done that’. It also does so while delivering some well-rounded characters, stereotypical as they may be. Original?…no. Fun despite being part of an over-saturated genre?…very much so!

MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: Star Gong Yoo and actress Jung Yu-mi, who plays the pregnant Seong-kyeong, are actually from Busan, South Korea, the destination for our embattled train passengers.

-MonsterZero NJ

A solid 3 (out of  4) baseball bats…sadly, the only anti-zombie weapon on a train!

alyce rating

 

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