For four years after the initial zombie outbreak, a unified Korean peninsula is completely quarantined from the rest of the world with the remaining survivors having to fend for themselves. A former Korean Captain, Jung Seok, who was one of the last survivors to escape pre-quarantine and now lives in Hong Kong, is hired for a four man team to return to the peninsula and retrieve an unmarked and abandoned truck stowed with $20 million dollars in U.S. currency. With a promise from a Hong Kong mafia boss to keep part of the loot for their recovery services in order to start a new life, the team agrees to the terms and embarks on the seemingly succeed mission only to find survivors who have gone mad, pillaging their mission and conscripting them into a malicious betting game of survival in a watery pit full of zombies.
The highly anticipated sequel to South Korea’s 2016 sleeper zombie hit, “Train to Busan,” docks into U.S. theaters and VOD services on August 21st and is entitled simply, “Peninsula.” From the bullet train rails to the a devastated Korean port, the predecessor film’s director, Yeon Sang-ho, returns with a zombie overrun post-apocalypse that completely metastasized Korean derived from a biological agent quickly spreading throughout the two cinematically unified, North and South Korea. Joo-Suk Park returns as co-writer alongside Yeon to provide heart clenching, brutal action-horror suspense and a human sense of selfless compassion that won the hearts of many genre fans with “Train to Busan.” Zombie hordes rampage down streets, alleyways, and toppling over cars, fences, and other structures as a collective flesh easting unit that specializes in dominating and ravaging for the pure motive of infection and while that sounds all hip and cool that the “War World Z” and “I Am Legend” running zombie pandemonium makes for a glitzy entertainment feedbag, the Next Entertainment World and RedPeter Film production punches down on the gas pedal of gaslighting audiences with more of a “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” with zombies, revving more to the tune of an exasperated exhaust rather than finishing strong with gripping storytelling.
As a standalone film, the story doesn’t return the surviving characters from “Train to Busan.” Instead, a whole new set of characters reset the parameters of expectations, starting with the guilty conscious of the grief-stricken ex-soldier, Jung Seok, played by Dong-won Gang, who will star in Scott Mann’s upcoming disaster film “#tsunami.” Seok’s a reserved and stoic individual whose good a gun play, but isn’t the thinker when a plan is needed in place and while Dong-won Gang gives a par performance, the overall package of the lead character is sorely two-dimensional. This leaves room for other characters flourish, such as the mother and children Seok attempts to save on a second go-around. The mother, played by Lee Jung-hyun, has more grit that clearly defines her underlining hope for not only her salvation, but also her children who’ve known nothing but death, destruction, and meaning of being devoured growing up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. On the slim change of success, she implements a plan to infiltrate Unit 631, former military turned murderous scavengers, to steal back a satellite phone and a truck full of cash while not becoming zombie chow or get caught in Unit 631’s sadistic survival methods. That brings us to the villains, the real villains, where are not the zombies, but the section 8 soldiers of Unit 631, Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan) and Sergeant Hwang (Kim Min-jae). Though Seo and Hwang bring internal tension to the table, a mental game of cutthroat chess, they’re inevitably soft against the main threat, a combined effort of Jung= Seok and Min-jung, and don’t spill enough blood and craziness onto the screen to make them worthy of the antagonist position. “Peninsula” rounds out the cast with Kim Do-yoon, Lee Re, Lee Ye-won, Moon Woo-jin and Bella Rahim.
As almost methodical as it is with any second film in a series, “Peninsula” failed to be a rejuvenating and transcending sequel to “Train to Busan,” abandoning the first story’s benevolence for CGI flair that extends to not only the zombie hordes, but to the car chases. As excellent as the rendered zombies are slammed against the drifting cars can be represented, in what “Peninsula” can be described as an “Escape from L.A.” meets “Land of the Dead” meets “Mad Max: The Road Warrior,” the cars themselves are a product of computer imagery with little authentic driving happening. While the effects are not bad (they’re pretty good chiefly obscured by dim lit night scenes), the sensation of being scammed can’t be ignored as the vehicles operate unnaturally and maneuver in impossible situations without blowing a tire or upending or just frankly be dead in the water with an overheated and stress tussled engine that frags zombies left and right, becoming a collective character to have the highest kill count. That disingenuous feeling also spreads to the overly long-winded ending that tries really, really hard to capture a courageously defiant and heroic moment of family and personal redemption and much of the blame lies on director Yeon Sang-ho with a drawn out awkwardness and edit that made it seem satirical. In light of some positive words for “Peninsula,” the zombies are a greater, gigantic force that swarm on a colossally epic scale more so than the much more compact “Train to Busan” and, as aforementioned, the structured CGI isn’t of the degraded detail variety so the hordes never look cheap or obviously artificial alongside the more palatable, practical versions. What’s also interesting about “Peninsula” and what makes it separate from “Train to Busan,” which perhaps laid the foundation for, is “Peninsula” has integrated the western counterparts as English speaking actors chime in as U.S. Military, U.N. peacekeepers, or English mafia bosses based in the U.K. This challenges the Korean actors to speak a few different languages, especially English, inclining “Peninsula” as more of a global problem than an isolated Korean one.
The zombie genre isn’t just defined by the ungodly amount of undead bodies reaping the world of every living soul, but is also defined by the diversity of chaos-driven social structures people find themselves confronted with in the action-heavy “Peninsula,” arriving into U.S. theaters on August 31 and distributed by Well Go USA Entertainment. This review will not contain the A/V aspects of the release as it’s a theatrical screening of the feature, but the theater specs will look something like this: projection is in scope lens format at an aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1, a surround sound 5.1 stereo mix, Korean/English/Cantonese language with English subtitles, and has a runtime of just under two hours at 116 minutes. I will note that some scenes are very dark, but this only adds to the complete blackout of a civically desolated Korean peninsula. From fast trains to fast cars, “Peninsula” has retained the adrenaline popping rampant style with weaving, bobbing, and chassis chucking zombie bodies like the ball in a pinball machine despite a facile approach, but is ultimately missing that down-to-Earth social context complexity aimed to provoke thought and shed a few tears as an inferior part two of the “Train to Busan” universe.
High school teenager Ko Ja-yoon lives with her adopted parents on a struggling cow farm. Ja-yoon‘s amnesia struggles with recollecting her past, she’s plagued with severe headaches, and suffers to retain any strength in her body. When her best friend persuades her to enter a popular singing contest, Ja-yoon’s nationally televisions performance triggers a covert agency to seek her out, dispatching Korean-American hitmen with supernatural abilities and local hit squad agents to track her down to either capture her alive or kill her. As the devious factions close in on her, placing her family in great danger, her past begins to unravel, revealing a troubling truth regarding who she really is and what she’s capable of effectuating.
Not to be confused as a sequel to Robert Eggers’ critically acclaimed, Americana gothic folklore tale “The Witch” from 2016, Park Hoon-jung’s “The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion” diverges itself as the tenebrous action-mystery of a two-part film series from South Korea. Entitled “Manyeo” in the native Korean tongue, “The Witch” refers to a moniker bestowed upon the agency acquired children provided with genetically enhanced brains to open up their full, existential potential of God-like violence shrouded in the murky shadows and cutthroat conspiracies. “I Saw The Devil” writer Park also pens the script for his produced 2018 film that resupplies the darkness of a detective noir into another fantasy thriller furnished with a bloody veneer of a R-rated superhero movie. Gold Moon Film and A Peppermint and Company co-produce the Warner Bros. Pictures distributed picture.
Starring as the titular character, Koo Ja-yoon as The Witch, is South Korean actress Kim Da-mi making her introductory debut that’s considerably demanding for the early 20’s actress to tackle with little-to-none prior experience in “Avengers” level action, but that’s where the subversion sets in when Kim undermines with a body frail tool performance, throwing pity bait to sucker in the bigger fish, and then opening her ranges to play on the opposite side of the spectrum in a slim, but killer, authoritative absolute suit. Ja-yoon’s American counterparts are equally as intriguing with Korean-Canadian actor, Choi Woo-shik (“Train to Busan”) leading the pack of vicious and powerful mercenaries. Choi’s monstrous 2019 lineup of award-winning (“Parasite”) and action-packed (“The Divine Fury“) films set “The Witch” up for inherent success in a now powerful and versatile recognized Korean film market. Upstaging has a strong aurora inside Korean filmmaking as every scene invokes an intense stare, an action of grandeur, and dialogue – every actor has lots and lots of dialogue – and so, bold performances stand out from the remaining cast list who includes Jo Min-soo (“The Cursed“) as the prideful genetics doctor, K-pop’s 2Eyes band member Daeun as the cut from the same cloth American-Korean super villain, Go Min-se as Ja-yoon’s bestie, and Park Hee-soon as the curious Mr. Choi with a vendetta against all who are enhanced.
“The Witch: Part 1 – Subversion” is over two hours of grand chess and superhuman stratagem culminating at a writ large do-or-die finale. Even with a 125 minute runtime, Park Hoon-jung has to inertly cram a whole lot of story into a seemingly abundance and bountiful timeframe. As the staggering conspicuous tension builds and characters evolve into an elucidated light, scenes start stepping into confounding placement that bedevil slightly the storyline. If you’re able to piecemeal together the puzzle and able to follow casually, Park is able to eventually reel captivation back from surmountable follies of structure with flashbacks and, in this case, a generous amount of exposition to get viewers on track once again. The prodigious action rivals the Marvel movies of today with complimenting cannonade and psychokinesis while ushering in a heroine tapped from same vein as “Hannah” or “Lucy” into the Korean moving pictures.
Warner Bros Pictures and Well Go USA Entertainment entertain us with GMO action in “The Witch: Part 1 – Subversion” on a single format Blu-ray home video release presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, on a region A, BD25 disc. What I really like about Well Go USA releases are the consistencies of arrangements. The brightly lit, natural landscapes are vivid, floaty, and serene as if all of life is an idyllic safe haven for visual leisure. The black, almost gun metal black, of the nighttime segments render a more sinister and unfavorable approach to arms and danger likely ahead. Some posterization occurs during these moments, but little-to-no ill effect to the scenes themselves. Some of the chunkiness to the visual effects stem from combative action of the genetically altered, fighting against the slower normals with their high caliber, fully-automatic rifles and, also, against themselves, but these battles are interspersed to not violate audiences corneas to beyond the max extent of the natural law. The Korean language DTS-HD Master Audio mix offers a wide range of varied leveled action, from the mundane ambience of rural and urban life to the precision of activity during the more upbeat commotion of fight sequences and gunplay in tighter quarters. Dialogue placement renders nicely and is prominent while the option English subtitles captures beautifully with well synced and timed captioning. Bonus features three trailers which are two international trailers and one U.S. trailer. If Part 2 is anything like “Subversion,” the game of deceit will continue to unfold surprises one after another and beguile with the mysteries surrounding “The Witch’s” genetically invasive backstory that’s inherently pervading throughout, leaving an agape of wonderment, intrigue, and thrills.
After the sudden and violent death of his police officer father, mixed martial arts champion, Yong-hoo, has a complete disdain for God from a young age now that both his parents have perished. Growing up angry and swarmed with negative thoughts, Yong-hoo goes through life without much of a purpose until he awakes from vivid dream with the wound of stigmata on his hand. Unable to stop the bleeding by means of conventional medicine, he resorts to a shaman who convinces him to seek out Father Ahn, an elder priest experienced at practicing the rite of exorcism, and learns that the wound and Father’s once unwavering benevolence provide a divine weapon against a growing covenant of demons under the black magic of a Dark Bishop. Together, Yong-hoo and Father Ahn combat the forces of evil before the possession runs rampant in the city.
South Korea packs a punch with an action-packed take on possession and exorcism with Kim Joo-hwan’s “The Divine Fury.” The 2019 released film that blends horror with the cinematic formulas of the comic book universe films is written and directed by Joo-hwan and produced by Studio 706, KeyEast, and Lotte Entertainment, the latter being a subsidiary of one of the largest Asia conglomerates and a leader in the Asian film industry. “The Divine Fury” isn’t low-rent horror, providing fans with salt of the earth martial arts, a range of diverse set locations, and a decent grade of special effects that range from stunt men quality to visual monstrosities, including a giant hell worm bristled with millions of arms and hands, and also gives a chance for Joo-hwan to showcase his junior horror-action that succeeds a 2017 buddy-comedy in “Midnight Runners” and a coming to terms drama in his 2013 film, Koala. One motif, and perhaps trademark, that runs through all of Joo-hwan’s written and directed films is the coupling of protagonists element and “The Divine Fury” is not an exception and follows the same coupling, if not slightly altered, mechanism.
A pair of actors from Bong Joon-ho’s award nomination buzzing “Parasite” also have a role “The Divine Fury,” one of them, Seo-joon Park, being the lead star of the Joo-hwan film as the MMA Godsend, Yong-hoo, with hate in his heart for the Lord Almighty. Yong-hoo’s a joy to watch on the screen as a character with an arch’s beginning as a young man, a mindless fighter, being verbally influenced over his shoulders by demon puppeteers to finding his lost father figure in a man who has an unflinching amount of faith. Seo-joon captures the defined struggle Yong-hoo has with God even in the face of pure demonic evil before him. An evil battled by Father Ahn, dolefully portrayed by “Sector 7’s” Sung-Ki Ahn. Sung-Ki fatherly performance places Yong-hoo into a role of humility, not only as a mentor, but with experience and patiences that resigns to trust rather than action. However, the dynamic goes both ways. Seo-joon shows lot of physical strength becoming unwittingly the “divine” warrior to thwart an insidious malevolency when Father Ahn is taken out of action due to Yong-hoo’s haste. Seo-joon had to quickly and naturally grow up his character to be the leading, brute force of experience and physicality and did just that as character faces off with the Dark Bishop, Ji-sin. Ji-sin invokes demons to inhabit those in a weak state of mind. This devilishness wouldn’t have been made possible without Do-Hwan Woo’s stoically sly and slimy confidence behind the character. The remaining cast rounds out with another “Parasite” actor, Woo-sik Choi, and Seung-Joon Lee.
“The Divine Fury” is fundamentally an essential oil extracted from the widely popular comic book universe money-making machines, that are sometimes also called movies from time-to-time, but “The Divine Fury” doesn’t have that monstrous platform of a narrative pulled directly from the illustrated pages of comic book franchise. Yet, the story builds a downtrodden, seeking-answers Seo-Joon with a tragic past and an ability to pulverize people – a winningly similar combination to any pre-defined hero in the Marvel character evolution. There’s also this theme of fatherhood and mentorship, like seen in “X-Men” with Professor X or “Blade” with Abraham Whistler. The latter of those two examples perhaps more closely resembles Father Ahn as the relation to the horror-action genre is similar in nature, but instead of abstaining from blood thirst, Seo-Joon is abstaining from letting God into his heart. Of course, “Blade” was ultra-violent and bloody and “The Divine Fury” is grossly more toned down with the exception of a few key moments of blood regurgitation. Speaking of effects, the visual effects waned from expectation and teetered more toward a rushed and unpolished look. They weren’t terrible, but not the best looking visual effects demons in the industry.
Well Go USA Entertainment brings the action of exorcism to Blu-ray and DVD home video with a dual format, two-disc release of “The Divine Fury.” Presented in a 1080p widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio and sheathed in a slipcover, “The Divine Fury” feels necessarily gritty in comparison to the subject material with a clean, almost sterile image that defines the blacks and colors, despite a short range of vivid hues the hues that are dominant are profoundly thick and dark. The limited color palette won’t be a problem as demons hide in the shadows and that’s where the story takes domain in scaffolding-laden churches, orphanage basements, and even a swanky neon-glowing club with a well of damnation beneath in the dungeon. The skin tones have a natural feel about them, but going against the grain of naturalism is the visual effects as aforementioned as they don’t render properly to exude the right viewer reaction. The Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has ample weight. Whispering shadows of slithering speak and the bubbling of the, again, well of damnation emit the right kind of range and depth needed to descent into doom and gloom atmospherics. Dialogue is crystal clear and in prominent. An English dub is available, as well as English subtitles that errorless and well synced to the Korean dialogue track. There is some English during a MMA fight on the Korean track. Bonus material includes a rather generally spiced together making of featurette that includes mini segments such as prop commentary, special effects, behind-the-scenes look, and the construction of the antagonist world in “The Divine Fury. There are also a couple of trailer variants and a U.S. trailer for the film. Ultimately, “The Divine Fury” intrigues on the fray, desiring more into the backstory of Father Ahn and delving further into Seo-Joon’s weaponized stigmata and director Joo-hwan Kim teases just that with a taste of things to come with a short pre-credit scene that sets up “The Divine Fury” for more themes, perhaps, on a love-hate relationship with God, more, perhaps, finding suitable father figures, but, of course, there will be for sure more exorcizing ass-kicking of demons.
The kingdom of Joseon is in a state of great turmoil as the absolute monarchy is being influentially divided. The King has treacherous whispers being fed to him by head of the nobles, Minister Kim, and the eldest royal son, the Crown Prince, witnesses his father’s dominion being redirected against the common people despite his best efforts to persuade his father. When the Crown Prince’s insurrection plan for kingdom stabilizing is foiled, the Crown Prince commits public suicide as act of sacrifice to spare his cohorts and their family from capital punishment, but before his death, the Crown Prince sends word to his younger brother, Lee Chung, to return home from the Qing Dynasty and escort his sister and unborn child out of a country soon to be in the throes of chaos. In the midst of the struggle, a foreign ship cargoes new age weapons and the Captain has secret dealings with Minister Kim, but is raided by the Crown Prince’s rebellion The ship also holds another human eradicating payload, a plagued foreigner in the brig is transforming into a blood hungry monster with grayed out eyes and razor sharp teeth With one of the raiding members being bitten, the carnivorous outbreak spreads throughout the kingdom days before the pleasure seeking and arrogant Lee Chung returns home. Chung not only finds his people suffering from bloodthirsty monsters, but also from a turbulent hierarchy sought for destruction by a devilish and traitorous orchestrator who will do anything, like leave a plague go unchecked, to see the lineage die out.
From the same studio that delivered the critically successful, zombie apocalyptic nail biter, “Train to Buscan” comes Kim Sung-hoon’s martial arts horror-fantasy, “Rampant,” that’s a perfect accompaniment double feature film involving a familiar fast-spreading zombie-like outbreak with gripping, non-stop action based on the webcomic Kingdom of the Gods. “Rampant” is the filmmaker’s junior film from 2018, a film blended with truly epic magnitude and an ancient Korean civilization that’s penned by “Scary Hair” writer-director Shin-yeon Won and Hwang Jo Yoon to weave battling aortic stories that inherently funnel toward the dismantling of an established empire. While not serving as a straight genre film with savage moments of on the edge of your seat horror, the theme hones in on the separation of classes, peasants and blue-blooded or high ranking officials, and the reuniting them by compassion and strength. Inklings of fear, greed, and ignorance are stitched in the very hanbok and gat-laden fabrics of the story and serving as a precursor to the Netflix produced television series, Kingdom, scripted by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Seong-hun Kim, involving virtually an identical premise of a troubled monarchy being plagued by a horde of diabolical creatures.
Prince Lee Chung is a stimulating character to say the least; the prince’s introduction isn’t favorable to royal morals as a pleasure seeking, womanizer who gets his kicks by doing what he wants, when he wants. Yet, Chung arches so prominently that the transformation goes seamless, and covertly, to persuades audiences to rally behind Chung in the least-to-most extreme circumstances. Hyun Bin’s confidence in the prince ceases to amaze. From his impeccable arrogance to selfless protection, Bin sustains high level performance no matter the situation while bearing a giant blade, holstered on his lower back. Chung has the skill of a warrior, but the tact of a barfly at first and comes to be a complete better version of himself at the dire end that also completes Bin’s full range of the role. Chung is pitted against Minister Kim, the head of all the court’s ministers, and Kim plots to dethrone the Joseon kingdom in chaos by any means. Jang Dong-Gun is Korean’s version of Mads Mikkelsen. Jang envelops a deepening mystery that’s hard to deescalate and emits a presence on screen just by the way he positions himself in an ominous, if not anime swordsman, manner. Minister Kim is a staggering and formidable nemesis, more overall suited to be the main villain amongst an ever-growing sea of plague-spewing creatures. The remaining lot of characters feel auxiliary around the protagonist Chung and antagonist Kim and these roles are supported by Kim Eui-sung (“Train to Buscan”), Jo Woo-jin, Jo Dal-hwan, Jung Yoo-An, Lee Sun-Bin, and Seo Ji-hye.
You might have noticed that the term creatures were used to describe the menace that plagues Joseon. Characters often reference the plague transformed attackers as demons and, to be honest, these grayed eyed, pointy teeth demons could pass as extras in Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” or Kevin Tenney’s “Night of the Demons,” but the U.S. marketing of the Well Go USA Entertainment release promises zombies and zombie action, even going as far as splaying on the front and back cover that the same studio produced “Train to Buscan.” To be fair, a plague did start the mayhem, transmission of the disease was by bite, and the course ran the kingdom very, well, rampant like a traditional, George A. Romero style, outbreak. Either way, to kill a demon and/or zombie, an assortment of kill method was acceptable such as: beheadings, severing the heart, and, to thoroughly ensure death, kill with fire. Demons. Zombies. Audiences won’t be too hard up on how to label the hungry hordes as “Rampant” slices, dices, and crucifies the the living hell out of the living dead.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents the VAST Entertainment and Leeyang Film, “Rampant,” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray combo, release. The 129 minute runtime Blu-ray is exhibited in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s money behind this release as visual effects are one of the superior cases over the lot of 2018 releases with pinpoint detail from the mass of infected, the textures and coloring of fire, and the Joseon Kingdom structures and detail attire. The attention is really in the details with not only historical authenticity, but also realism. Human coloring looks rather natural and the no issues with compression either. The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the action heavy film with LFE combustions and explosions, unlimited range and depth amongst a vast Kingdom battleground, and dialogue that right up front. The DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track. Well constructed and syned English subtitles are available on both formats. Inyoung Park’s ho-hum score is the Achilles’ heal of brittleness that downplays the feverish action and reducing the entire sequence as mediocre that doesn’t aspire greatness to come or to be beheld. The same can be said about the bonus material too with a making of featurette that’s more of “Rampant’s” Stateside promo reel, Behind the Scenes featurette that also feels like a marketing campaign ad focusing on character introductions, and Well GO USA Entertainment trailers. In short, no substance in the bonus features. With sound swordplay choreography, a swarm of multiplying reanimated corpses, and an engrossing narrative with a lore foundation, “Rampant” is the next Korean mega hit in the fantasy-horror catalogue.