‘Emergency Statement’ review: All your COVID fears are in the air

If I were put in charge of a film school, the first thing I would do would be to build a set – the cockpit and cabin of a modern airliner – and direct all the directing students to make a film that takes place on board the plane. I’m a firm believer that creativity works best within constraints, and this seems as good a test as any of what someone can do with a single place.

The Korean adrenaline rush “Emergency Declaration” begins at the airport, where a nervous young man buys a ticket on the most crowded flight he can find: KI501 to Honolulu. In the bathroom, suspicious-looking traveler Ryu Jin-seok (Yim Si-wan) cuts a hole under his arm and hides a capsule containing a fast-acting and incredibly contagious virus inside. From this point on, Jin-seok becomes a walking biological weapon, leaving the cops on the ground (led by “Parasite” star Song Kang-ho as Sgt. Koo) struggling to find a solution while his fellow passengers start coughing up blood and collapse in the hallways.

Believe it or not, Emergency Declaration was conceived before the pandemic, but it’s just about the most exciting way a film can capitalize on our fears — of the virus, of flying, of governments that exacerbate a problem – without directly exploiting the internationality nightmare we’ve all been living lately. For two and a half hours, writer-director Han Jae-rim stokes fear by throwing obstacle after obstacle at the passengers aboard KI501. What should they do if the American authorities refuse to land them in Honolulu? How to continue flying after both pilots died?

In a way, the film anticipates issues that many of us face when confronted with reality, such as: B. how much masks help in situations like these, or the matter of the plane being turned away from foreign ports where fears of contagion trumped concerns of infected travelers. Others sell a fanciful alternate reality in which the antidote to a virus can be found and delivered pre-credits.

‘Emergency Declaration’ debuted as a midnight selection at the Cannes Film Festival a full year before its US premiere, and seeing it there surrounded by an audience of nervous, masked movie buffs hesitantly venturing back into public gatherings made the Experience doubly nerve-wracking. Shelf. (Watching a bioterrorism thriller stream is one thing, but doing it in a room full of people you could infect is quite another.)

In terms of content, the film has a lot in common with the Korean blockbuster Train to Busan, which is about a zombie outbreak that turns a normal commute into a high-speed death trap. In both cases, the far-fetched sci-fi premise (this one far more plausible) serves to see how different personalities react to such a challenge – like the ex-pilot with a fear of flying (Lee Byung-hun). escorting his daughter to Honolulu for medical treatments, or those who send and receive cell phone updates during the trip.

Airline disaster movies are nothing new (they’ve been around long enough to inspire a Zucker Brothers parody more than 40 years ago), but when you’ve got creative minds working to reconfigure the details in original ways, they never grow old. Han makes things even more interesting by dispatching the unusually young villain early. The perpetrator, Jin-seok, looks like a member of a K-pop boy band in a business suit (played by ZE:A singer Yim, which is pretty much what he is): an eerily innocent-looking face with a indecipherable half-smile, à la Paul Dano in Prisoners, and not your usual evil mastermind. Because Jin-seok infects himself, he is one of the first to die. “Do you think I got on that plane to live?” he says, taunting the horrified passengers.

The outbreak claims dozens of victims, and nearly everyone ends up infected while the plane faces an onslaught of other challenges: autopilot malfunctions, actual pilot deaths, a steep fall where unbelted travelers crash into the ceiling, a desperate attempt to land, Japan confronted with rockets fired from Air Force jets, and so on. Han and his editors double down on the most intense scenes, switching between dire situations for maximum impact. With all the shocks it’s in store, ‘Emergency Declaration’ plays like an entire season of ’24’ compressed into (jumbo) feature length, and only the all-too-convenient antidote sounds egregiously wrong.

Outrageousness is the order of the day in midair disaster movies, and Han doesn’t seem to mind audiences laughing at how far he’s taking things — though the press releases are full of haughty speeches about how “realistic” the film is supposed to be. Sure, the production design is compelling and the actors play it directly, but when the challenges escalate, eyes will roll. But inviting ourselves into the joke is a good strategy to engage, and when the audience sees this film as a group, they erupt in applause after each set piece.

From a storytelling perspective, it’s downright inspiring to see what Han can do with the inside of an airplane – and a whole lot of CGI. If you had an airplane set as adept as this one to work with, I’d bet pretty much any (contemporary) genre could be told at 35,000 feet. Cracking my hypothetical film school assignment is just a matter of inventive thinking Inside the box, for a change.

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/emergency-declaration-review-bi-sang-seon-eon-1235332850/ ‘Emergency Statement’ review: All your COVID fears are in the air

Charles Jones

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