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In 2016, Korean director Yeon Sang-ho breathed new life into the zombie genre with his thrilling and emotional take on the genre, Train to Busan. The film placed an infected woman on a train, who then infects others, amassing a contained zombie horde that's trying to feast on the uninfected humans onboard too. Clever, tense and underpinned with plenty of class commentary (a la Academy Award winning Parasite), Train to Busan went on to become a critical, global theatrical hit that's since had a robust life on Netflix.
Sang-ho remained with his universe, creating the animated prequel, Seoul Station, and earlier this summer, he released in South Korea the follow-up, Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula. It opens in U.S. theaters on August 21, and will head to Shudder for an exclusive engagement in 2021.
Set in the same universe, but taking place four years after the original film, the story expands outside of the train into the post-apocalyptic world. Jung-seok, a soldier who has survived the massive infection, has been given a new assignment to go back into the wasteland to save others trying to get away from the now swarming killer zombies.
SYFY WIRE has an exclusive extended sneak peek at how Jung-seok comes to connect with some resilient survivors in a thrilling, and unexpected, rescue sequence:
As usual, Sang-ho manages to take what's familiar — zombie and sci-fi tropes — and fuses them with genres that don't come to mind. SYFY WIRE was also able to ask the director why the Busan universe has remained so compelling to him.
He says that ideas for more stories actually came from his initial location scouts for Train to Busan. "I visited many closed train stations like the one in the movie. The closed train stations were neglected and in ruins, and I thought it was very beautiful. After Train to Busan, I talked a lot about a post-apocalyptic backdrop with the staff who accompanied me to those sites. That’s when I start thinking that if we ever made a sequel to Train to Busan, I wanted to create a backdrop of a post-apocalyptic and ruined Korea."
The success of the Train to Busan earned the support of the production company, and plans were put into place to make another story in that broadened landscape with a cast that were very different from those in the first film. "I imagined a young child driving a dump truck, or something like that, in a ruined country," he explains. And from that image, spun out the characters introduced in the above sequence.
While there's no shortage of zombie-related stories on small and big screens throughout the globe, Sang-ho says he was never concerned about getting mired in the more repetitive elements of the genre.
"I think the zombie genre is [about] combining with new genres and continuously evolving," he says of his approach. "I definitely wanted to make Peninsula a different genre compared to Train to Busan. Peninsula has more action scenes and it was created with the intent of meeting a wider audience."
Of course both films are about exploring the world during, and then after, a huge, life-changing outbreak — which doesn't help much when trying to attact a broader, willing audience. But Sang-ho found himself ready to release Peninsula in the midst of the actual COVID-19 pandemic, which he admits did have him concerned about a negative reaction to the movie when it came time for audiences in South Korea to see it in July.
But he also knew that the messages in Peninsula would resonate all the more. "I feel that fate exists in the movie," he shares. "And I also feel that it is the fate of Peninsula to be released and meet the audience in this environment. And because the theme of Peninsula is about how people can find hope in an isolated and frustrating world, the audiences are able to sympathize with it."
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula opens in U.S. theaters on August 21, 2020.