Review by Sean Boelman
The opportunity to see two of the most internationally acclaimed Korean actors working today in a film together makes Han Jae-rim’s Emergency Declaration one of the most anticipated movies of the summer for cinephiles. Even though Han does not take advantage of his talented cast, the film offers enough solid thrills to be worth watching.
The movie depicts a terror incident occurring midflight in which a deadly viral pathogen is released on a plane, causing a team on the ground to investigate and find a cure as the passengers struggle to keep everyone alive. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill disaster film, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, its viral storyline rings even more true.
Unfortunately, the movie clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes and undoubtedly could have been cut down. Both sides of the story are things we have seen before, and the film takes far too long in the build-up to explain the context. Beyond that, the procedural aspect of the storyline is almost entirely unnecessary.
There is some interesting commentary in the movie about the ethics of responding to an international tourism situation and the implications that a crisis like this could have, but the film raises more questions than it provides answers. Thankfully, this means that the movie doesn’t fall into the overly jingoistic trappings typical of the terrorism thriller genre, but it still could have spared to take a harder stance.
The film’s two main stars are Song Kang-ho (Parasite) and Lee Byung-hun (The Good the Bad the Weird), each of whom leads one of the storylines. Lee gets the more compelling portion of the movie as de facto hero on the plane, while Song’s portion of the film effectively could have been cut out with no impact.
Surprisingly, the real highlight of the movie is Yim Si-wan, who is downright intimidating as the film’s villain. For someone whose claim to fame was being part of a K-pop group, the performance he delivers is astounding. It’s on the level of Alan Rickman or Gary Oldman in terms of great villain performances.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is undeniably very impressive, but that is typically the case with Asian disaster films. This type of high-concept storytelling tends to be a massive hit with international audiences, and so they can afford to go all-out with the effects. The result is a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat viewing experience.
Emergency Declaration suffers from being too long and not knowing what to do with its talented stars, but its high production value makes it a very watchable entry into the genre. It’s a solid, if somewhat forgettable popcorn flick.
Emergency Declaration hits theaters on August 12.