Friday, August 12, 2022

Emergency Declaration

Taking a break from writing up Fantasia movies to go to… A Korean thriller!

Smart of Well Go to line three Korean movies up for late July/August, meaning they can get the preview for the next one in front of the one in theaters this week, and audiences might be looking for something mainstream but different to see. For example, Alienoid is on the schedule for a couple weeks from now. I saw it at Fantasia, and it is batty.

As to this one…


(I mean, seriously, how does a movie shoot in 2020 and presumably taking place in roughly the present day only have one guy in an Asian country with a mask? Did these people and airlines not learn to be ready for infectious disease?) Bisang seoneon (Emergency Declaration)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2022 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

I saw the original Airport a couple months back, and this very much has the same old-school disaster movie feel, including a fair amount of the bloat that genre of films became known for. It's big, star-studded, and kind of straightforward for its side, but certainly has a few pieces that are memorable enough to stick in one's head.

It opens with a number of folks arriving at Incheon International Airport for a flight to Honolulu: Park Jae-Hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) and his daughter Soo-Min (Kim Bo-Min); Jong Hye-yoon (Woo Mi-Hwa), the wife of Sergeant Koo In-ho (Song Kang-ho), going on a vacation without her husband because he just never gets around to planning it; three pilots including Choi Hyun-soo (Kim Nam-gil), who turns his head when he sees Jae-hyeok; flight attendants Hee-jin (Kim So-jin) and Si-young (Lee Yeol-eum); and, most notably, Ryu Jin-Seok (Im Si-wan), who is sketchy as heck even before he inserts a metal capsule under his skin in order to get it past security. He's already posted terrorist threats about a flight on-line, but this only gets to Sgt. Koo - who finds a body and the remnants of a nasty bio-lab - in his apartment just as the plane takes off.

There's not really 141 minutes of movie in this premise, at least not for how relatively streamlined the plot is here, although writer/director Han Jae-rim does a fair job at first, building a lot of what the audience needs to know to get started in a way that's unhurried but still to the point, enough for a modest thriller to run on. It lets him get right into things, but also means that he's got to keep adding new elements as the movie goes on rather than just let what's already been started play out. The audience will probably start to feel it toward the end, when there's not so much problem solving and what there is in an uncomfortable space between being the culmination of what's been going on since the start and one damn thing leading to another. Eventually, it means that all the grand gestures, reversals, moralizing, and heartfelt concessions crammed into fifteen minutes or so seem a bit forced rather than being natural next steps.

On the other hand, one does often come to disaster movies for the spectacle, and Han delivers some absolutely jaw-dropping sequences that are well worth the 6-month delay this movie endured to get to a point where Covid wasn't preventing people from going to theaters. A couple in the middle are especially great for how they seem both amazing and not flashy. The roll and dive segment that happens when an infected pilot loses control of the plane is the sort of thing where you know they must have built a ridiculous rig to shoot the interiors and also delivered top-notch VFX work for the exteriors of the plane. It's a great-looking movie in general - the cinematography by Lee Mo-gae and Park Jong-chul has the feel of film from the disaster movie's 1970s heyday but also has a couple striking sequences built around drones and cell phones - and the FX matches the look and lighting fairly seamlessly. There's also a quick but terrific chase back on land that a lot of crime flicks would kill for.

The drama is kind of by-the-numbers, not exactly wasting Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and the rest of an all-star cast, but not exactly challenging them. Song, for instance, can probably do "disheveled but earnest cop" in his sleep, but there's probably nobody who does that sort of role better; he's got all the good comedy beats when the film needs them as well as genuine anguish. Lee is handed "former pilot afraid to fly", and though he winds up with the most folks to play against, the film doesn't quite come to life around him even when he clicks with a co-star. Jeon Do-yeon is capable enough as the Minister of Transportation dutifully trying to solve a situation that seems to have no solution before politics get involved, while Im Si-wan gets to play a thoroughly unconflicted villain. The trick is how to deploy all these folks. This is a movie with a built-in ticking clock in the plane's fuel gauge, but there often seems to be relatively little to do on the plane while Koo is dashing all around Seoul.

Oddly, Han and company never get a whole lot of use out of the declaration of the title, which even gets multiple screens of dramatic explanation to start the film Still, he's delivered an impressively made disaster flick which shines in enough ways to recommend in the middle of August, even if there are more than a few spots where it could be better.

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