Emergency Declaration (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A predictable crisis in the air

As your average seasoned moviegoer, I saw lots of disaster flicks, and that is probably the main reason why I was rather unimpressed by South Korean film “Emergency Declaration”. While reminding me of many other movies ranging from “Airport” (1970) to “Airplane!” (1980), the movie flies fairly well during its first half thanks to its taut and efficient setup process, but then it takes a flight course riddled with bland clichés and sappy melodrama during the rest, and I simply observed its eventual landing (Is this a spoiler?) without much care or excitement.

Right from the beginning, the movie introduces us to the villain of the story, who is a creepy and unpleasant young man ready to execute his diabolical plan. At an international airport which is filled with lots of people as usual, this lad is looking for any airplane suitable for his plan, and he eventually chooses one particular airplane after one accidental encounter with a young girl who happens to notice something suspicious about him.

That young girl is accompanied with her single father, and both of them become understandably nervous when they later notice that odd lad gets on the airplane. In addition, the girl’s father, who later turns out to be a former commercial airline pilot, has a serious mental issue with being on airplane due to some incident in the past, and, what do you know, the co-pilot of the airplane turns out to be someone associated with that incident.

In the meantime, the movie also pays attention to what is happening on the ground. We are introduced to a detective who had to give up his summer vacation because of some unexpected big case, and he is certainly not so pleased when he is requested to handle another case involved with someone who announced on the Internet that he will soon commit an act of terror. Although it looks rather insignificant on the surface, the detective decides to delve a bit more into this case, and what do you know, he ends up entering a shabby apartment belonging to that creepy young dude and then discovering very terrible things.

Unfortunately, that creepy young dude has already embarked on executing his atrocious plan. Not long after the airplane takes off from the airport and then flies toward its destination, he secretly spreads a highly virulent pathogen at one certain spot within the airplane, and the situation gets worse and worse as many of the passengers in the airplane get infected one by one within a short period of time.

At least, once his plan is belatedly revealed, many government officials and experts quickly gather together for handling this unprecedented case of bioterror, but there is nothing much they can do except trying to find any cure for that dangerous pathogen and secure a safe landing spot for the airplane as soon as possible. After the whole situation is reported on the media, the airplane is regarded as a flying hot zone unwelcomed by other countries including US, and even South Korean citizens are understandably not so eager to get the airplane back in South Korea.

Up to that narrative point, the movie did a good job of accumulating enough amount of tension and suspense on the screen. Although its main characters are no more than broad stereotypes, the movie skillfully juggles them as their storylines gradually converge together, and the main cast members dutifully fill their respective spots as require. While Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Jeon Do-yeon are more prominent as expected, Kim Ham-gil, Han So-jin, and Park Hae-joon hold each own place well on the whole, and Im Si-wan is particularly effective in his villainous role.

However, the movie begins to stumble more than once during its second part, where it tries too hard for squeezing more emotions from us in addition to doing many predictable things. Yes, we all know that the ex-pilot character in the story will eventually come to the cockpit and then must overcome his longtime anxiety for keeping the airplane in the air. Yes, those passengers in the airplane are naturally thrown into panic and desperation, and we certainly get several moments of conflict among them while also reminded of our current situation outside the film. Yes, there comes a climactic moment as one certain main character tries something quite daring for saving those passengers, and I do not have to tell you anything about the eventual outcome of this desperate act.

And there are several things which are not so necessary in my humble opinion. The frequently shaky camera of cinematographers Lee Mo-Gae and Park Jong-Chul is clearly influenced by Paul Greengrass’ “United 93” (2006) and “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), but the result is merely showy, and the same thing can be said about a sudden action sequence in the middle of the film. In case of the climactic part, it is too mellow and overwrought as burdening the movie with more melodrama, and this only makes us more aware of how contrived the finale is in many aspects.

Overall, “Emergency Declaration”, whose theatrical release in South Korea was postponed for more than one year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is a mostly competent genre piece, but it does not have enough fun or thrill compared to its numerous seniors. To be frank with you, I would rather watch “Airplane!” or “Airport” again, but I will not stop you from spending your precious two hours on the movie.

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