Movies

Action and emotion go together: Filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho ahead of the Indian release of ‘Peninsula’

A still from ‘Peninsula’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A divorced father and his daughter board a train from Seoul to Busan. They share a cold relationship, but rediscover their love for each other when the train journey is plagued by a zombie outbreak.

As absurd as it may sound, the South Korean zombie adventure, Train to Busan, which was both an allegory and a satire, had a rippling effect in the international circuit. It introduced an exciting filmmaker in Yeon Sang-ho, when it premièred at Cannes Film Festival in 2016. A success at the box office, Train to Busan is one of Korean cinema’s biggest hits.

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Yeon Sang-ho was on a location recce for Train to Busan when the germ for a sequel first crossed his mind. During the course of the shooting, he came across a few old and dilapidated factories that prompted him to revisit his own film, “These spaces made me imagine a lot of different things, among which is a motif for Peninsula. I was discussing some of these ideas with the producers and it was suggested that we make a proper sequel,” says Sang-ho.

A still from ‘Peninsula’

A still from ‘Peninsula’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Peninsula begins with where Train to Busan ended: It follows the pursuit of a handful of soldiers who are set to retrieve truckloads of money from a place that is now inhabited by zombies. The film released in South Korea earlier this year, to a lukewarm response from critics and audiences alike, thanks in part to the current COVID-19 situation.

Ahead of its India release, we speak with Yeon Sang-ho about his penchant for creating a fantasy worlds and his love for communicating human emotion.

Excerpts from an email interview:

Train to Busan was a resounding success, more so when it landed on streaming platforms. You must have had a lot of pressure when you announced a sequel. Were you at all affected by the shadow of the predecessor while creating the world of Peninsula?

I still think the global response to Train to Busan is a miracle. However, my approach to Peninsula was completely different from when I made its predecessor. Because for me, Peninsula is a standalone film on its own. That is why I didn’t feel the pressure. In fact, I was more excited to create a new story.

Peninsula is your third live action film, apart from Train to Busan and Psychokinesis. What explains your interest in zombie thrillers or films that are part-adventure and part-futuristic?

The thing that attracts me the most is the fact you can show reality through metaphor. This allows immense creative freedom.This process is extremely enjoyable to me.

The success of Train to Busan is how respectful it was of human emotions, particularly of the equation between the father and daughter (played by Gong Yoo and Kim Su-an). As a filmmaker, how difficult is it to convey emotion, especially in an adventure film?

I think action and emotion always go together. Flashy action choreography truly shines when it reflects the character’s desperation. Because of that, I focus a lot on emotion. The same mechanism is a key component of Peninsula.

Filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho

Filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The reviews have been mixed for Peninsula, which was the case with its predecessor. Did you expect this? Would there be another offering from the Train to Busan world?

Given the clash between Peninsula being the sequel and my own creative vision of making a film different from Train to Busan, I suspected there would be mixed responses. But I still believe Peninsula allowed the world of Train to Busan to expand. I don’t know if I would make another film set in the same universe, but if so, it will be yet another totally different movie.

My watchlist
  • Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (English)
  • Otomo Katsuhiro’s Akira (Japanese series)
  • Kiyoshi’s Kurosawa’s Cure (Japanese)
  • Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (South Korean)
  • Kon Satoshi’s Tokyo Godfathers (Japanese)

Train to Busan has become a great entry point for South Korean cinema. Apart from it being an original film, it has also been dubbed into regional languages which have also done reasonably well, especially in India. What, according to you, explains the film’s universal acceptance?

I think all creative work should have both universality and uniqueness. Train to Busan simply contains a universal element that hasn’t been widely discovered yet. It combines family drama with zombies and action. My opinion is that this mix is what made people consider it both original and universal.

You could argue that the current COVID-19 scenario is like a scene straight out of one of your zombie movies; the only difference is, we have a deadly virus instead of zombies. Would you be tempted to make a film based on COVID-19, reflecting the collective emotion of the human race?

I released Peninsula during the pandemic, and have been shooting my next project. The process of film production has changed dramatically, and I am trying to adjust to that. I have no plans on making a film about COVID-19.

Zee Studios and Kross Pictures will release Peninsula in India on November 27.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 7:01:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/interview-with-south-korean-filmmaker-yeon-sang-ho/article33160439.ece

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