In 2016, animator Yeon Sang-ho made his live-action debut with Train to Busan, a claustrophobic, but frenetic thriller that saw a train-load of Korean commuters outrunning the undead. What could have been a one-off exercise in genre-bending instead took root in the filmmaker’s imagination. Just a few months after the release of Train to Busan, Yeon delivered Seoul Station, an animated prequel, the story of a father and his runaway daughter set against the dawn of the zombie breakout.
Now the director is back yet again, directly sequelizing his first film with an expansive take on the world. Peninsula (dubbed Train to Busan Presents Peninsula in the States) takes place four years after Train to Busan. In the time since, South Korea has been overrun by zombies and closed off from the rest of the world, but a few refugees, led by former soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won), return in the hopes of retrieving a truck full of cash.
And — surprise! — much like he did with Seoul Station, Yeon is already in the works on an animated prequel to the movie.
In anticipation of Peninsula’s stateside release, Polygon asked Yeon through translated email about the motivations behind telling bigger story set in his undead-infested world, the cultural choices that inform the direction, and how the franchise will continue to expand in the future. We’ve provided his original answers and English translations.
At what point during the making of Train to Busan, or perhaps in the years after release, did you think there was a bigger world worthy of exploring in a sequel?
Yeon Sang-ho: 부산행을 만드는 동안 부산행을 촬영하기 위해 폐쇄된 간이역과도 같은 기차역을 많이 찾아 다녔다. 폐쇄된 간이역들은 방치된 채 폐허가 되어 있었는데 그 모습이 너무나 아름다웠다.
로케이션을 같이 다니던 스탭들과 부산행 이후의 포스트 아포칼립스 배경에서의 이야기에 대해 많이 이야기 했었다.
그래서 부산행의 시퀄을 만든다면 폐허가 된 한국을 배경으로 한 포스트 아포칼립스 영화를 만들고 싶다는 생각을 하게 된 것 같다.
Translation: While making Train to Busan, in order to shoot the movie, I searched many closed train stations. Those abandoned train stations were not maintained and in ruins and the image was very beautiful to me. After Train to Busan, I talked a lot about a post-apocalyptic backdrop with the staff that accompanied me to the various locations. So, I thought if I were to make a sequel to Train to Busan, I wanted to portray a devastated Korea in a post-apocalyptic movie.
What forms of inspiration, films or otherwise, were you looking at before making Train to Busan, and did those come back into play when you started developing Peninsula? Or were you thinking about something entirely different when building this movie?
앞서 이야기 한 포스트 아포칼립스 배경의 한국을 배경으로 영화를 만들고 싶다는 이야기를 했었고 폐허가 된 한국에서 어린 아이가 덤프 트럭 같은 것을 몰고 다니며 생존해 가는 이야기를 상상했었다.
이 아이디어를 제작사가 좋아했기 때문에 기획이 시작되었다.
Previously, I told you I wanted to make a post-apocalyptic movie with a devastated Korea. I also imagined a story of a young child driving a dump truck in the ruined Korea. The production company liked these ideas, so we were able to start the project.
Is there a specific scene in the movie that sums up your vision for this sequel?
반도는 고립되고 좌절만 가능한 세상에서 어떻게 희망을 발명할까에 대한 이야기이다. 그리고 주인공인 정석은 이미 반도를 탈출한 상황이었고 탈출했음에도 희망찬 세상에서 살고 있지 않고 다시 반도로 들어온다.
과연 정석이 탈출해야 하는 세상은 지정학적 세상이 아니라 이기심으로 가득 찬 공동체에서 탈출해야 한다는 의미를 가지고 영화를 만들었다.
마지막의 준이가 UN군과 나누는 대사에 내 생각을 담았다고 생각한다.
The story is about how one is able to find hope in a peninsula that has become isolated and full of despair. The main character, Jung-seok, escaped from the peninsula once before and then lived in a world without hope, so he returns to the peninsula again. I made the movie with the intent to show that Jung-seok was not trying to escape from a geopolitical world, but from a community that was full of selfishness.
What was behind the decision to have an increased amount of English dialogue in Peninsula?
이야기의 배경이 좀비로 인해 폐허가 되어 고립된 한국을 배경으로 하고 있었고 탈출에 성공했지만 난민처럼 살고 있는 주인공이 4년만에 다시 그 공간으로 들어간다는 설정 때문에 자연스럽게 영어가 들어가게 되었다.
그 부분에는 영어뿐 아니라 광둥어들이 들어간다.
While the background of the story was set in a desolate Korea that had been devastated by zombies, the main character had been living as a refugee after successfully escaping and then returns after four years. This plot made the inclusion of English dialogue very natural. That part actually includes not only English, but also Cantonese.
When you were figuring out the scope of how far the infection spread, how did you come to decide that North Korea would be a safe zone/be able to hold off the spread?
중요한 것은 한국에 게토화 되었다는 것을 보여주는 것이었고 그래서 3면이 바다로 둘러싸여 있고 위의 북한과는 휴전선으로 막혀 있어 고립되어 있는 상황이 필요했다.
한국과 북한은 거대한 휴전선으로 막혀 있기 때문에 북한까지 좀비들이 퍼지지 않았다는 뜻이었다.
The important thing was to show a devastated Korea, so I needed to show it was isolated because three sides were surrounded by the sea and the north was blocked by a cease-fire line. This meant that the zombies were not able to spread to North Korea because South Korea and North Korea were blocked by huge armistice lines.
Is Peninsula open-ended enough for a sequel? Would you take the franchise into other mediums?
반도 이전의 이야기. 그러니까 631부대와 민정과의 관계에 관한 이야기를 만화로 만드는 것에 대해 이야기를 나누고 있다.
만화라고 하는 자유로운 매체를 통해 좀 더 이야기를 확장할 수 있을 거라고 기대한다.
A prequel to Peninsula: we are currently in talks about making a cartoon about the relationship between Unit 631 and Min-jung. I am hopeful that the story can be further expanded upon through the less inhibited cartoon medium.
Train to Busan Presents Peninsula arrives to theaters on Aug. 21.