EXCLUSIVE: Peninsula, the hit sequel to 2016 Korean zombie smash Train To Busan became a runaway success when it bowed locally in mid-July, at the time setting an opening day record for the year. It has now grossed about $28M at home, where it is the No. 3 movie of 2020, and has done significant numbers in other Asian markets. It releases today in the U.S. via Well Go USA on 125 screens including multiple sites each in Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta as well as some California drive-ins. Well Go previously released Peninsula in Canada on August 7 where it has grossed $336K. In his first interview in English, star Gang Dong-won recently chatted with Deadline about the film and the thriving Korean industry even as he seeks out more international projects.
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Gang has been acting since 2003, and has made a name for himself in such titles as Temptation Of Wolves, Duelist, M, Woo-Chi: The Taoist Wizard, Secret Reunion and A Violent Prosecutor, which was the 2nd highest grossing local movie of 2016. Last year, he spent time in Los Angeles, preparing to film disaster pic #tsunami, but the COVID crisis delayed the shoot. Plans are to pick up in the fall and other projects are under discussion.
Of the U.S. release of Peninsula, Gang said he hopes the film brings hope to the domestic business. “We really want to support the industry,” Gang told me.
The actor became involved in Peninsula about two years ago when an editor friend (Parasite’s Jinmo Yang) told him that Train To Busan director Yeon Sang-ho was looking to talk to him for a role in the sequel. After the meeting, Gang was “very inspired and impressed by the director and his vision and his heart.” He also “really wanted to make a post-apocalyptic movie.”
Still, he had initial concers about stepping into a sequel. “Sometimes it’s not very interesting as an actor. But when I read the script, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a totally different movie so we have to make this happen.’”
Peninsula (which is also known as Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula) is set four years after South Korea’s decimation in Train To Busan. The sequel centers on Jung-seok (Gang), a soldier who previously escaped the diseased wasteland, and relives the horror when assigned to a covert operation with two simple objectives: retrieve and survive. When his team unexpectedly stumbles upon survivors, their lives will depend on whether the best — or worst — of human nature prevails in the most dire of circumstances.
The film shot last summer so was completed before COVID began its outbreak. The July release date this summer came with some caution. “Of course everyone was worried about it, we made a quite hard decision. But I think we were brave, we wanted to support the film industry so we decided to open as planned,” said Gang.
While Korea is seeing a resurgence in coronavirus cases this week, possibly toughening restrictions again, at the time of Peninsula’s release, it was possible to do local promotion in person, Gang explained. “We couldn’t go to promote in other countries in South East Asia, but in Korea we did interviews with reporters in person and had a big press conference — with masks.” That the film performed very well in markets like Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore was further evidence of audience hunger for new product.
Ultimately, the film was “a bigger success than we expected in this pandemic situation,” Gang said. Part of that is the passion of Korean audiences. “We put in a lot of effort back in the day… now we have one of the best systems in the world. Before, it was like we had to shoot 72 hours in a row because we didn’t have enough budget. But now we have a very advanced system. I still remember when I started my career 15 years ago, I could be walking and sleeping at the same time.”
The industry was given a huge spotlight in the past year thanks to Parasite, which became the first Korean film to win the Best Picture Oscar. For Gang it was an incredible moment. “It’s not my movie, but I almost felt like it’s my movie,” he told me. “The actors and the editor are my friends. I was very proud.”
The fact that zombie movies have been among the big winners at the Korean box office (along with #Alive) during the reopening process is not lost on Gang who noted the irony, and said, “I think the audience thinks that with the current situation, the movie is very relevant to the real world.”
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