EMERGENCY DECLARATION – Review
I should start by declaring I’m no fan of “disaster movies,” which usually play out as melodramas, rather than thrillers. They always start with introductions to an assortment of strangers about to find themselves in a shared peril. That is intended to personalize the macrocosm of the threat, so we’ll care about the potential victims – root for some, hate some others – theoretically making “who will survive?” a grabber, regardless of the nature of their common menace. When you put them in a confined space – like an airplane or ship at sea – claustrophobia adds another dimension to the emotional strings being tugged.
So my praise for this subtitled Korean thriller, EMERGENCY DECLARATION, which runs contrary to form, making it more of an achievement by the producers. A weird guy who we soon learn is a disgraced biologist boards the most crowded commercial flight he can find departing Seoul, Korea, on this fateful day. He’s carrying a highly toxic, fast-acting virus to unleash upon the handful of travelers we meet before takeoff, and the rest of his captive audience. Growing sickness and panic ensue, as they must.
The plight of the passengers is complicated by several factors that are exceptionally well-written for the genre, thanks to writer/director Jae-rim Han. Is there an effective anti-toxin? Can it be delivered in time to save at least some of them? If not, it is safe to let the plane land anywhere? The flight’s intended destination was Honolulu. But as word of the pandemic threat it carries spreads globally, no government is willing to risk exposure for its citizens. The title is a phrase pilots would use to compel any airport to immediately clear a runway for them, since disaster is certain if they don’t land ASAP.
Describing the plot further would be a disservice. The array of actions within the plane are the stuff of good dramatic tension. But what really makes this film compelling is its depiction of all the aspects of activity on the ground among the affected countries. This script effectively covers the gamut from corporate greed to politics, to law enforcement to the impact of internet connectivity, keeping everyone inside and beyond the plane amazingly current on each unfolding development. As director, Jae-rim Han provides enough action to leap the claustrophobia hurdle, with plenty of suspense elements coming from those on the ground who variably help, hinder or frustrate the optimal resolution – whatever that may be.
Those who share my general disdain for the genre (mine started when they all seemed to include overacting by Shelley Winters), or shun subtitled fare, should consider keeping more of an open mind. You just might find this one a worthy exception.
EMERGENCY DECLARATION, in Korean with English subtitles. opens Friday, Aug. 12, in select theaters.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars