blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Emergency Declaration (2021, Han Jae-rim)

Emergency Declaration is a disaster movie made like a horror movie. It’s not just any disaster movie, either; it’s Airport meets Airplane but with bioterrorism. The bioterrorism doesn’t have to do with the horror movie; it’s all the investigation procedural. The horror movie experience is entirely reserved for the victims (and the audience). Declaration doesn’t thrill, it doesn’t excite, it terrorizes. From the start.

As we’re meeting busy cop dad Song Kang-ho (whose wife Woo Mi-hwa went on vacation with girlfriends without telling him), co-pilot Kim Nam-Gil, single parent Lee Byung-hun, and seeing the flight attendants and class trips arrive, we’re also meeting Yim Si-wan. He’s asking the desk clerk weird questions about the flights because the first act of Declaration is all about how lax Incheon Airport security is going to cause lots of problems.

Pretty soon, Lee’s adorable daughter, Kim Bo-min, has to go to the bathroom and goes to the boys because the class trip is waiting in line for the women’s. In the can, she just happens to see Yim slicing himself open so he can put a vial inside to get through security. Again, it’s Airport, only with bioterrorism instead of a bomb. And then it’s Airplanebecause Lee’s actually a hotshot pilot who burned out and is now a bit of a drunk. Luckily adorable Kim keeps him in line.

Now, by the time Kim sees Yim mutilating himself, it becomes clear director Han isn’t stopping the terror any time soon. Especially not when cop dad Song goes on a call about some TikToker threatening to do something to an airplane. Song pretty quickly discovers evidence, and it’s time to start talking about turning the plane around. Except no one listens to Song for a while.

But it’s okay because we’ve established the pilots made sure to get extra fuel (bad weather in Japan, which comes up again).

So we’re just waiting for Yim to do something and to see how it affects the lovable or at least sympathetic cast of passengers. Especially Kim, because Yim decides to terrorize her.

Now, Yim’s just an incel. He’s some other things on top of it, but when the news eventually compares him to someone else, it’s a U.S. mass shooter incel. Declaration came out in 2021, so in the middle of Covid-19, but you’d never know it. It’s a recent movie where Rona doesn’t happen (wow, did South Korea do things better than the U.S.—everyone’s crowded together in this movie, on plane or not), but it’s about bioterrorism and how people react to communicative disease. So it’s this weird, in-direct commentary on Rona only not, starring a generic incel, only not.

Or it would be such a commentary if Han weren’t just making a terrorizing movie about a lot of people dying horrible deaths and no one really being able to do anything to help, especially not over-promoted men, the United States, or the Japanese. Though Song’s somewhat shoe-horned in so they don’t have to give Jeon Do-yeon too much to do as the government minister in charge of the response. The movie decides in the third act she’s really super-duper important, only they don’t give her enough in the first act. She makes sense; she’s navigating the bioterrorism thriller. Lee’s on the plane doing his Ted Striker thing. Song’s around like it’s Taking of Pelham One Two Three. They needed first and third act drama, so they gave it to Song, while at least some of it should’ve been Jeon’s.

When I say director Han’s trying to terrorize, he’s not being coy about it. Whether or not the unfortunately constant lens flare is supposed to be ominous as far as foreshadowing (spoiler, yes), the editing and music are just about scaring the audience. Lee Byung-woo’s score is excellent. It’s almost entirely just horror movie slasher stalker music. Relentless.

Then the editing—from director Han, Lee Kang-il, and Kim Woo-hyun—cuts to and from characters in moments of incredible stress and tragedy, and fear. Whether they’re in the ground or the air, it’s just about scared people in their worst moments. Han brings incredible severity to this fictional remake of Airport. It’d be an opportunistic melodrama if it were a true story. But it’s not, so it’s just terrorizing.

And it works out pretty well. Declaration starts cracking somewhere in the second half, and it’s falling apart by the third. The film forecasts a lot of the story (intentionally) and occasionally drags things out too much.

There’s some excellent acting. Song and Woo have some great phone call scenes, Lee’s an awesome imperfect hero, and Yim’s never not scary. Han directs the hell of the film with outstanding CGI plane special effects. It’s gorgeous.

It’s also manipulative, and a little insincere, but—as with everything else Declaration does—expertly so.

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