‘Emergency Declaration’ Review: Midair Contagion

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It’s not enough for a disaster movie to rely on spectacle and peril; the crisis must allow characters to transcend their baser instincts so they might inspire hope. “Emergency Declaration,” a piercing thriller from the South Korean writer-director Han Jae-rim, manages to deliver excitement and melodrama out of a ludicrous story line.

The premise for Han’s script borrows heavily from the “Airport” film series and “Air Force One.” In the movie, a troubled passenger (Yim Si-wan) releases a deadly virus aboard a plane heading from South Korea to Honolulu. The infected first develop a rash and then their blood vessels start bursting. The ensuing panic among the passengers spreads faster than the pathogen and demonstrates how greed and fear can lead to selfish survival tactics.

Their flight is a race against time and a lesson in personal sacrifice that unearths a number of secrets: Hyun-soo, the plane’s co-pilot (Kim Nam-gil) despises Jae-hyuk, a disgraced former aviator (Lee Byung-hun, “Squid Game”) who is traveling with his young daughter. All are infected. On the ground, In-ho, a police sergeant (Song Kang-ho, “Parasite”) whose wife is on the plane, is desperately searching for a vaccine. Each actor, especially a raw Song, provides a sturdy performance in a narrative whose emotional course corrections occur so frequently that the film can feel directionless.

Han pulls at his audience’s heartstrings by relying on redemptive shifts in tone for Jae-hyuk, whose climactic landing, edited for maximum sweaty palms, defies all gravity and logic, while offering an easy dose of disaster movie joy.

Emergency Declaration
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 18 minutes. In theaters.

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