Peninsula’s Yeon Sang-ho on How Zombie Movies Can Bring Us Hope Amid Real-Life Horrors

Peninsula’s Yeon Sang-ho on How Zombie Movies Can Bring Us Hope Amid Real-Life Horrors
In Peninsula, the young and the old work together to fight zombies and humans-who-are-worse-than-zombies. (Photo: Well Go USA)

Peninsula, the sequel to 2016 South Korean zombie sensation Train to Busan, is out today, and if you were a fan of its predecessor — or are just a fan of thrilling, post-apocalyptic, flesh-chomping action — it’s a must-watch. We got a chance to chat with director Yeon Sang-ho to learn even more about his latest.

The following interview was conducted over email with the assistance of a translator.

Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: What made you want to do a sequel to Train to Busan? What is it about that world that lends itself to continued storytelling, and will you be making another sequel, similar to George Romero’s Dead trilogy?

Yeon Sang-ho: I have many different ideas around Train to Busan, and I have been casually sharing them with the production company and the investment distributor. Then, during those talks, the investment distributor suggested we create a story around Peninsula.

Then while we were planning and developing the story more, I thought that if we could create the story around a devastated and ruined Korea, that could challenge a new genre of film.

Train to Busan Sequel Peninsula Is a Rip-Roaring, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombie-Infested Good Time

Even the most bloodthirsty horror fan could be forgiven for wondering if there’s really room in the world for yet another zombie movie. Then something like the new Train to Busan sequel, Peninsula, comes along and offers a reminder that in the right hands, the genre still has plenty of...

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Gizmodo: Peninsula seems to take some inspiration from certain other post-apocalyptic movies; Day of the Dead, Escape From New York, and the Mad Max films (those vehicle battles!) were a few that I thought of while I was watching it. Was there any specific inspiration (be it a film or something else) that helped guide you when you were creating the tone and the story?

Yeon: I grew up enjoying the films you mentioned in your question. I also grew up watching many Hollywood movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

It’s true that I took inspiration from those movies to create the mood for the movie Peninsula. In addition, from the animation Akira, the latter half of the movie where Special Forces infiltrated post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo after Akira’s second explosion, was a big motif for me.

Yeon Sang-ho on the set of Peninsula, repping his love of 1990s culture. (Photo: Well Go USA) Yeon Sang-ho on the set of Peninsula, repping his love of 1990s culture. (Photo: Well Go USA)

Gizmodo: Families are a key component in all the Train to Busan films, including the animated companion film Seoul Station. Why do you think that is, and what is it about a zombie apocalypse that makes the family theme so important?

Yeon: I think the genre of apocalyptic movies paradoxically asks about the nature of humanity and the extreme barbarism of the end. I wanted to deal with a barbaric society and the hope family that is the basic unit of society.

With Peninsula, I wanted to show that the family unit is not just about blood ties.

Gizmodo: What’s it like directing kid actors in a movie that’s so driven by violence and just general scary mayhem? (Also, how did you come up with the idea that the littlest daughter would use her toy cars to distract the zombies?)

Yeon: The first image I had when envisioning Peninsula was of a young child using a dump truck to hit zombies in the fallen world. I thought that would stand out and be paradoxical in the fallen world.

I also wanted to portray the children as being tough and not just always needing protection.

I thought the fallen world would collapse the older generation and I wanted to portray the new generation that survived the fallen world as being strong, so I tried hard to find a way to show the young children living their best in the world. In doing so, the scenes with the toy cars were created.

Gizmodo: The year 2020 has already been filled with so many horrors — what role do you think horror movies have in keeping us sane when the real world is so nightmarish?

Yeon: Peninsula is a story about how, in an isolated and frustrating world, we can invent ways to maintain hope. I think it is a topic that should be thought about in our present reality.