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.
In a small South Korean village, tight-knit families practically know one another in the quaint middle-class community. When mysteriously deadly destructions from inside local families and strange stories of animal carcass devouring creatures in the woods surface, local police sergeant Jong-Goo begins an investigation to connect a pattern of violence and superstition and at the center of it all is a suspicious and reclusive Japanese traveller. Bound by the law and an overall lack of courage, Jong-Goo proceeds to investigate with extreme caution, but when his young daughter, Hyo-jin, becomes subjected to the same symptoms that overtook destroyed families from within, the desperate father sets aside rules and regulations and uses threats and force when visiting the Japanese Stranger, whose rumored to be an evil spirit that’s plaguing the small village with terror and death.
By far, “The Wailing” sets the precedent on folklore horror. Acclaimed writer-director Hong-jin Na lands a harrowingly ambitious, well-constructed film right into the lap of horror fans with “The Wailing,” known also as “Goksung” in the film’s country of South Korea. South Korean filmmakers have once reestablished proof that foreign films can be as masterful, as bold, and as elegant when compared to any other film from major studio productions. Hollywood has started to come around by remaking one of South Korea’s most notorious films, the vengeful thriller “Oldboy,” and seeks to remake recent international hits in “Train to Buscan” and “I Saw the Devil.” Lets also touch upon that top Hollywood actors are beginning to branch out to South Korean films. “Captain America” star Chris Evans had obtained a starring role in Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” alongside co-stars Ed Harris and the late British actor Sir John Hurt. “The Wailing” will reach similar popularity being one of 2016’s most original horror movies and one of the more unique visions of terror to clutch the heart of my all time favorite’s list.
Do-won Kwak stars as Sergeant Jong-Goo, a officer who avoids trouble at all costs and has no motivation to be on time for anything. Kwak, basically, plays the fool character, comically going through the routine of investigating brutal murders complete with stabbings, burnings, and hangings despite his Captain’s constant chastising and seizes every opportunity to act dumb and look stupid, but once the story starts to focus “The Wailing” as nothing more than an offbeat black-comedy, Hong-ja Na devilishly about-faces with a severe turn of events that’s a mixed bag of genres. Kwak no longer plays the lead role of comic relief; instead, a more self-confident Sergeant Jong-Goo takes control of the investigation as the deeper he finds himself involved in the dark plague that’s ravaging his village. He hunts down the Japanese Stranger, the debut South Korean film for long time Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (“Kill Bill,” Takashi Miike’s “Audition”) with a zen like aurora that’s enormously haunting to behold and captivating when his presence is lurking amongst the scene. Though Kunimura’s demeanor contrasts with other actors, he’s very much in tune with the dynamic, but it’s the maniacally, foul-mouth ravings of Hyo-jin, played by Hwan-hee Kim, that stand out and are the most distraught during her possession state that could give “The Exorcist” a run for it’s money and is a visceral vice grip to the soul that has to be experienced. Woo-hee Chun and Jung-min Hwang round out the cast in their respective and memorable co-starring roles as a peculiar no named woman and a flashy shaman.
“The Wailing” incorporates various folklore stemming from cultures all over the world including the Koreas, China, Japan, and even from China’s bordering neighbor Nepal and meshes them with religious practices of Buddhism to even the far corners that the Catholic faith possesses. The luxuriant green South Korean mountain backdrop sets an isolated, ominous cloud over a beautiful and serene archaic village, an awe-inspiring juxtaposition created by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong that coincides with the complete dread piercing through the heart of the story; a perspective vastly opposite to Hong’s works in the previously mentioned “Snowpiercer” that’s set in the tight confines of a class dividing bullet train. “The Wailing” bundles together mythos with visionary concepts and landscapes in an epic mystery-thriller that’s unforgettable; it will cling to you, like a evil-dwelling spirit, well after the film is over.
20th Century Fox, in association with Ivanhoe Pictures and Side Mirror, produce Hong-jin Na’s top horror contender “The Wailing” with Well Go USA and Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment distributing on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I was provided with a DVD-R screener and can’t specifically comment on specifications and image or audio quality. Accompanying the screener were two bonus features: a behind-the-scenes featurette and the beginning tale of “The Wailing” featurette. Both were fairly informative that gives insight on Hong-jin Na’s mindset and how the director’s ambitious story in a malignant tale of comedy, horror, and mysterious involving demons, shamans, and, quite possibly, the devil himself. “The Wailing” significantly captivates, sucking you into the darkness with an uncanny amount of pull with a story too terrifyingly original to avert and too thick with vigorous characters in a plot twist too harrowing to forget.