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Film Review: Overstuffed “Emergency Declaration” Still Offers Thrills

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 11th, 2022

Film poster: “Emergency Declaration”

Emergency Declaration (Han Jae-rim, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars. 

In the annals of airplane-disaster films, South Korean director Han Jae-rim’s Emergency Declaration offers very few narrative surprises. Still, as a bioterrorism story, while it may hew close to earlier films in that genre, it hits remarkably close to home given our ongoing global COVID pandemic. And so, mixed bag though it may be, the movie proves an interesting-enough sky thriller with which to pass the time, though at 140 minutes it definitely overstays some of its welcome.

Han (The King) starts things off with some onscreen text explaining the title, which refers to a situation where a pilot declares an official emergency so that traffic controllers will clear the airspace around an airport, making that particular plane the main priority. Oddly, though this declaration is invoked in the movie’s final third, it exerts little weight on the actual plot. That, instead, is consumed by a virus.

Song Kang-ho in EMERGENCY DECLARATION ©Well Go USA Entertainment

A disturbed young scientist has somehow made his way past Seoul’s Incheon Airport’s security screening with a vial of a deadly substance implanted in his armpit. We’ll learn exactly what it does later, but at the start we at least sense that nothing good will come of it. Han oversells this character’s nefarious behavior a little too much, making the eventual reveal of his dangerous weapon an anticipated surprise.

There are other important people in the drama, as well, including a father/daughter duo traveling to Hawaii (the plane’s would-be destination), on what might be some kind of post-divorce bonding trip, as well as the wife of a police sergeant who becomes the principal on-land investigator. That father has a secret of his own which surfaces as the situation deteriorates, and anyone who has seen the 1957 Zero Hour! or its 1980 spoof, Airplane, will surely see the resolution of his particular through-line coming from far away. No matter, as it still holds entertainment value.

Lee Byung-hun in EMERGENCY DECLARATION ©Well Go USA Entertainment

What is harder to watch are the practical effects of the virus released on the plane. Expect a lot of blisters, blood, and other violently expelled bodily fluids. I recommend not eating before or during the screening. Then again, it’s nothing we haven’t seen in a zombie flick.

Bong Joon-ho regular Song Kang-ho (Parasite) stars as that detective, and Lee Byung-hun (The Magnificent Seven) plays the secret-harboring father. They are joined by an effective supporting cast of Korean acting veterans and newbies, including the singer Siwan, doing their best to propel the film forward through the overly long sentimental and gross sections. Add an evil pharmaceutical company and you really have a modern parable for our time. Watch and shudder.

Siwan in EMERGENCY DECLARATION ©Well Go USA Entertainment

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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