Zombie genre provides excellent metaphor to expose reality: ‘Peninsula’ director Yeon Sang-ho
South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho says his film “Peninsula”, a follow-up to his globally popular 2016 zombie thriller “Train to Busan”, is about inventing hope in an isolated and desolate world, an important message at a time when people everywhere are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 24-11-2020 16:28 IST | Created: 24-11-2020 16:28 IST
South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho says his film “Peninsula”, a follow-up to his globally popular 2016 zombie thriller “Train to Busan”, is about inventing hope in an isolated and desolate world, an important message at a time when people everywhere are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. While “Train to Busan” revolved around a zombie outbreak in a train, “Peninsula” follows an ex-soldier who had escaped the pandemic but returns to the Korean peninsula four years later to retrieve a truck full of money. “I did not predict the COVID-19 pandemic in any way while writing or filming ‘Peninsula’. I think every film has its fate, and ‘Peninsula’ releasing under the circumstances it did is a part of its fate. ‘Peninsula’ asks how you can 'invent' hope in an isolated and desolate world. I hope that message is communicated well to the audience,” Yeon told PTI in an email interview.
The movie, starring Gang Dong-won and Lee Jung-hyun in the lead, released in South Korea on July 15 at the peak of the pandemic panic. Now, Zee Studios and Kross Pictures are releasing the film pan India on November 27. Yeon’s “Train to Busan” broke the box office records in South Korea and was a massive hit elsewhere with critics praising it for revitalising the zombie genre. The success of the film may have inspired the South Korean writer-directors to come up with “Kingdom”, a period Netflix drama that uses the zombie pandemic to tell a story of greed and power. Most recently, the streamer released “#Alive”, another film set amid zombie apocalypse. Yeon, meanwhile, decided to return to the world of undead with “Peninsula” to explore the aftermath of a pandemic.
Asked about the fascination of South Korean directors with the category, Yeon called it an creatively inspiring genre. “For example, ‘Train to Busan’ had a zombie epidemic and ‘Peninsula’ shows the world in its aftermath. I think the zombie genre provides an excellent metaphor to expose reality. Zombies, as a creature, contain many social implications,” he said.
Yeon started out as an animator but when he began the market for animation films aimed at adults was “technically nonexistent”, which is why he decided to switch to live-action. “I had to make a switch to live-action film to get my foot in the door and reach a wider audience. In addition, NEW – the company that invested in and distributed my works – had been consistently offering live-action projects.” For the director, the seed of the idea for “Train to Busan” came from his animated zombie movie “The Seoul Station”, also a 2016 release, but he never thought the former would become a cult hit.
“When I was working on ‘Seoul Station’, my animated zombie film, I thought: If I make a sequel to this, what about exploring what would happen if one of these zombies were on a train to Busan? “When I began developing the idea for ‘Train to Busan’, I did not think it had much mainstream appeal. Most of my memories of filming ‘Train to Busan’ involve how hard the staff, actors, and I worked in a train set identical to real Korean trains,” he recalled. The original film made a global star out of Gong Yoo, best known to K-drama fans as the actor from “Coffee Prince” and “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God’, and also featured actor Choi Woo-shik of “Parasite” fame.
Yeon was initially against making a sequel to “Train to Busan” but he realised that it “might not be such a bad idea”. “I think ‘Peninsula’ is a film completely independent of ‘Train to Busan’, which appealed to me,” he said.
Both “Train to Busan” and “Peninsula” are ultimately stories that depict the human courage and solidarity in the face of disaster, a message that is true to the current times as well, Yeon said. “At the end of the day, people have no choice but to rely on each other to create a better world. I think the best way to overcome this current disaster is to throw prejudice and exclusion in the trash and seek solidarity with one another.” South Korean movies have always been popular globally but the Oscar win of Bong Joon-ho's “Parasite” and the rising popularity of music groups like BTS and Blackpink, and Korean dramas, it seems there is a “higher interest” in the international market and that has led to better opportunities for creative people, Yeon said.
“Peninsula” was officially selected to the Cannes Film Festival 2020 and was set to make its premiere there but the festival had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. “I hope that Korean films can reach a wider audience and help diversify the industry under these circumstances,” the director said about the global popularity of South Korean cinema. Asked about the future post “Peninsula”, Yeon said he had no set plans.
"It’s always hard for me to decide what to do next, because the kind of film I want to make is always changing, and my ideas are always changing. I think I create movies that appeal to me the most at that given time.” PTI BK RDS RDS.
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