Given its star power and large cinematic canvas, this disaster film would qualify as a blockbuster had it been made by Hollywood in the 70s or 80s. Nowadays it would just seem anachronistic, but since it was made in South Korea it could be considered yet another attempt by that country’s film industry to assert its primacy as the biggest challenge to Hollywood. Logistically, however, the movie ran up against the wall that was COVID, its original release date being pushed back until last year, though whether its postponement had to do with restrictions on movie theater attendance or the uncomfortable relevance of the plot particulars (probably both) isn’t readily known. The fact that it didn’t do as well box office-wise as expected was, I imagine, due to different aspects.
The star power is provided by two of Korea’s biggest male international draws at the moment, Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun, as well as one of its biggest domestic female draws, Jeon Do-yeon. The disaster scenario is doubly fraught: a sociopath boards a flight from Incheon to Honolulu and spreads a lethal virus in the cabin. Song and Lee play the two heroes in the parallel plotlines, Song as a police detective on the ground who desperately tries to locate the origin of the virus in order to determine if there’s an anti-viral treatment, and Lee as a passenger and retired pilot who may have to fly the plane after the flight crew falls ill. The juxtaposition of these two thriller threads should be enough to maintain the requisite suspense throughout the movie’s overextended 140 minutes, but, as usual with Korean big tent entertainment, it isn’t enough, and so the detective’s determination is explained by the fact that his wife is on the plane, and the ex-pilot is revealed to be an alcoholic who quit flying because of an accident that, in reality, wasn’t his fault. There’s also an unnecessarily convoluted back story to the mass killer’s motive that extends to his former employer’s refusal to cooperate with the police, as well as lots of international diplomatic intrigue when the plane, running out of fuel, is refused permission to land in both Hawaii and Japan despite the pilot’s “emergency declaration,” which, according to international aviation law, should allow it to land anywhere it needs to.
Which isn’t to say Emergency Declaration is a waste of time; only that its almost superhuman effort to stuff as much plot into a situation that already tests the viewers ability to suspend disbelief results in more nervous laughter than chilly shudders. Actually, given how outlandish it is I imagine no one is going to be negatively reminded of the COVID pandemic. Maybe a plane disaster movie about that virus would have been scarier.
In Korean. Now playing in Tokyo at Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955).
Emergency Declaration home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2022 Showbox and Magnum9