Emergency Declaration, 2022.
Written and Directed by Jae-rim Han.
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan, Kim So-jin, Park Hae-jun, Seol In-a, Kim Bo-min, Moon Sook, Maurice Turner Jr., and Im Sung-jae.
While investigating a terroristic threat that goes viral online, Korean authorities discover that a suspect has recently boarded an international flight bound for the United States. When a healthy passenger on the same flight suddenly dies a gruesome death of unknown cause, panic erupts both in-flight and on the ground. With steadily decreasing fuel and international refusals to offer aid, the captain and crew will be forced to take unprecedented emergency measures in an attempt to save the lives of their passengers.
An opening title card informs viewers that an issued “emergency declaration” means something has gone so wrong that the pilot has free reign to land an aircraft ASAP. The only thing that matters in the skies is landing that plane safely, even if it disrupts the routes of other planes. Shockingly, such a declaration is not made here until nearly 100 minutes into this bloated and overblown mess (it’s a disaster film in more ways than one) despite a terrorist unleashing a deadly virus that has already killed multiple people. Generally, there is some excitement whenever a character refers to a film’s title, but in Emergency Declaration, it is laughable.
It’s doubly frustrating that the film completely falls apart since its opening act is suspenseful and builds intrigue. At an airport, Jin-seok (Si-wan Yim) enters the bathroom, slices his arm open, and stashes a deadly virus that he is fully prepared to release on a flight, intending to kill everyone, including himself.
While it’s worth appreciating that writer/director Jae-rim Han didn’t go with a played-out generic bomb, it is unsettling that while we are still living through a global health crisis, the source of domestic terrorism here comes from a killer virus that quickly spreads among confined spaces and is similar to what we still currently facing reality. One also has to wonder if the film will provide ideas for sickos in the real world, but judging the movie as a piece of art and discounting those ties, this is a terrifying concept.
However, the script fumbles the few good ideas it does have. When viewers are introduced to Jin-seok, he does not yet have a plane ticket. No joke, he gets in line to purchase a ticket but asks the receptionist all sorts of red flag questions about which plane has the most passengers aboard and what a popular vacation spot is. Also, in the same bathroom mentioned above, he crosses paths with a man and his daughter (the little girl went into the men’s bathroom because the other line was too long), continues to ask awkward and uncomfortable questions, and then proceeds to whisper to the child that everyone is going to die. Somehow, all of this is brushed off, and all three board the same plane to Honolulu.
There are other moving parts here, as Sergeant In-ho (Parasite‘s Song Kang-ho) is made aware of an online video directing a public threat to one of the planes. Bizarrely, he seems only to take a vested interest in the situation not just because lives could be in danger, but because his wife is leaving that day and going on vacation (In-ho is always too busy with work to tag along).
As the detective work runs its course (one of the more grounded aspects of the movie), there’s an awkward feeling that, in addition to raising the stakes for a significant character in a cliché manner, the narrative also wants viewers to care about critical individuals rather than all the lives on the plane. As a result, there’s something offputting about the storytelling, especially since it doesn’t seem too bothered about the people that do die on the plane from the virus.
The above is made more apparent as the man and daughter referenced above become pivotal to the story. Jae-hyuk (I Saw the Devil‘s Lee Byung-hun) fears flying due to a tragic incident in his pilot days. His daughter Sook-hee (Jeon Do-yeon) has eczema (they believe that a change in the environment could help) and has grown somewhat distant following her father’s divorce. Then, the situation gets contrived with Jae-hyuk revealed to have a storied past with the only remaining pilot.
There are far too many subplots competing for attention in Emergency Declaration, eventually reaching the point where it’s less about the virus and more of a straight-up disaster/aerial thriller movie. It piles plot twists on top of plot twists, bringing in everything from corrupt pharmaceutical companies to associates of the terrorist to an insultingly sentimental series of events involving a vaccine.
The ensemble is trying its best with the material, and the set pieces are competently crafted. Still, the narrative’s logic is practically freefalling from the beginning rendering the whole experience more irksome and confounding and, finally, unintentionally hilarious than entertaining.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com