If anyone was wondering why North and South Korea really decided to shake hands in 2018, Yeon Sang-ho has the answer.

It was so the director could create a hideout for the zombie apocalypse, of course!

Peninsula largely takes place across the North Korean border. Occurring four years after the timeline of Train to Busan, Yeon again takes us into a stressful race against time and flesh-eating weirdos. As with Train to Busan, expect more of an action thriller and less of a horror movie.

We live in an era where women are finally allowed to be strong and men can show emotions. The would-be male hero (Gang Dong-won) might be described as cowardly or powerless considering he is an ex-soldier. Interestingly, he is easily usurped by tiny female powerhouse Lee Jung Hyun and her mini-me offspring. The latter are brilliantly cast child actors (which Peninsula has in common with Train to Busan).

The overall feeling is very tense, and certain conventions are broken to favor story flow. For example, Gang Dong-won seems to have unlimited bullets, and drives indestructible vehicles. In addition, zombies run every which way when they sense their prey is near. Except when there is a dramatic scene that requires dialogue and pacing. Somehow in these moments, there isn’t a zombie for miles.

It’s been said that Peninsula is not officially a sequel to Train to Busan. But since it is being promoted to international markets as Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, audiences might expect an obvious connection between the two films. In a short interview, I asked Yeon Sang-ho if one can watch Peninsula without having seen Train to Busan or its animated predecessor Seoul Station.

Yeon: Peninsula is a movie that follows the storyline of the zombie outbreak of Train to Busan and is set four years later. However, it is also a completely independent movie with a new protagonist and a new plot. You will still be able to watch this movie without having seen Train to Busan or Seoul Station.

Cinetalk: What do you have to say to viewers that were hoping to see the original cast members – regardless if their characters are dead or alive – in Peninsula?

Yeon: I really want to leave the current images of the cast members of Train to Busan to the imagination of the audience. Speaking as the director: the last survivors, Seong-kyeong and Su-an and Seong-kyeong’s soon-to-be-born daughter, would have been able to survive without losing hope in any situation.

Cinetalk: Where does your preoccupation with zombies come from? That’s three films now that you’ve created with this theme.

Yeon: I believe zombies are a source of new inspiration for many creators, and when you combine them with different genres, it can produce new genres and types of movies. I like to think that while making three zombie films, we combined each with different genres and created films with a unique personality all their own. As a director, I always have a desire to create new movies.

Cinetalk: Could Peninsula have been made as an animated feature, or do you think it really needed the live action medium?

Yeon: The Korean animation film industry is very small. From the beginning, Peninsula was planned to be a blockbuster movie that many people can enjoy. As far as I know, there weren’t any proposals to make it an animation.

Cinetalk: Train to Busan and particularly Seoul Station appealed to the viewer to take a look at social norms, classicism and even the struggle of street life. Is there a similar message within Peninsula?

Yeon: I like to think that Peninsula deals with the surrounding issues within an isolated peninsula and not the problems within Korea. The main theme of Peninsula is the drama of the everyday people who have been isolated and abandoned on the peninsula. Those people struggle to survive on their own. In the process, they lose their humanity and start to consider going in the opposite way of humanism.

Cinetalk: Fear is a universal thing. Worldwide, we have felt it a lot this year. Do you think Peninsula will hit audiences differently in this atmosphere than you’d imagined before its release?

Yeon: I wasn’t expecting a global pandemic to hit, even while we were in the post-production phase, and we decided to release Peninsula after the epidemic began slowing down. The movie started with this question, “How will the isolated and frustrated characters on the peninsula create hope?” Serendipitously, I think it is a very pertinent question for our present situation.

Cinetalk: Isolation, pandemic, a deeper look at humanity, and collective selfishness have been ongoing themes in 2020. As each of these things showed their face, did you feel a sense of deja vu as if life was imitating art (or vice versa)?

Yeon: I believe art is a tool that can be used to magnify a part of life or describe it as it is. I couldn’t have predicted a global pandemic to hit, but I think various elements of it were already inherent in our society even before that began.

Cinetalk: Watching your own film now, do you see some humor in the idea that zombies are completely NOT following social distancing rules?

Yeon: Zombies always exist in groups and move toward stimuli, and the soldiers of Unit 631 threw away all hope and also chased after stimuli. That is why they feel as though they are mutant zombies as well. I think the way they are portrayed resembles our character as well. I have never thought about connecting social distancing rules with the characters in the movie.

Cinetalk: What do you think about the way the pandemic has impacted the film festival circuit? Would online festivals open up new opportunities for marketing your film?

Yeon: I haven’t seen or participated in the online film festivals yet, so I can’t really speak to them. However, I think the biggest benefit of the film festivals is to meet people face to face, watch movies, and talk to each other. I hope the global pandemic will be resolved soon because I want to enjoy the festivals again.

Us too, Sir. Us too!

Peninsula – Out now! Check local cinema screenings.