Movie Review: Korean Passengers and Crew face Terror at 30,000 feet — “Emergency Declaration”

There’s no sense sugar-coating this or beating around the bush. The Korean in-flight thriller “Emergency Declaration” laughably steals a lot of over-the-top plot points from “Airplane!” and the trouble-mid-flight thriller that “Airplane!” set out to spoof, 1957’s “Zero Hour!”

There are times when one wonders if this overwrought, overlong, can’t-find-an-ending epic is supposed to be funny, and times we’re sure it isn’t. The knowledge that, “Well, it was seven minutes longer when it opened in Korea” is cold consolation.

And then there’s the filmmaking lore of Rod Serling’s 1966 script for “The Doomsday Flight,” one of the first movies to ever feature a passenger bringing a bomb onto an airliner. It instantly-spawned imitation bomb threats and perhaps even real bombers in the years after it came out and became Serling’s biggest screenwriting regret. He actually had to come out and apologize for it.

“Emergency Declaration,” about a bio-terror attack on a packed jumbo jet, is so plausible and detailed as to make one fear the wrong sorts of folks will see it and follow its “How To” steps, and give everybody one more reason to not get on a jet.

Those provisos aside, this Jae-rim Han picture has its tense moments, its high stakes drama and even a little pathos. The whole isn’t all that, but bits and pieces work.

The creep (Si-wan Yim) might as well be walking around Incheon Airport waving a red flag.

“Which plane will have a lot of people on it?” he smirks (in Korean with English subtitles) at the ticket clerk. Her taken-aback look earns an “I’m just curious. Is that a problem?

He approaches a child, asks rude questions of one and all, for instance if this girl’s father (Lee Byung-hun of “I Saw the Devil”) “is divorced,” for instance.

Dad’s alarm bells go off. And they sound louder when he sees that this nut is on their flight to Honolulu with them.

Meanwhile, a police detective (Song Kang-ho of “The Host” and “Parasite”) is the only one in his precinct to take seriously the tip that some “nut” has posted an online video threatening to take down an airliner.

One problem? Anybody here speak good English? That’s the language the creep made the threat in, and while the school kids that live in the same complex speak it well, and thus passed on their tip, the cops are caught flat-footed. Until, that is, they break into the guy’s apartment and discover grim “evidence.”

The best scenes of “Emergency Declaration” are the ticking clock police hunt, and the single dad’s ability to piece together a threat and efforts to raise the alarm once on board the plane. Because in this social media age, SOMEbody on board sees the creep’s threatening video, and while nobody may know the nature of the threat — yet — they can pretty much tell the airport creeper and now fellow-passenger was the young jerk making the video.

That’s a novelty that becomes a running thread through the movie. Ordinary people put the pieces together, and the airline, the government and the police have their hands forced because the media has picked up on what has been crowdsourced into the open.

The attack and efforts to get this plane on the ground, the “secret” that this or that character shares with another, only hold suspense for the second or two it takes for the viewer to recognize the over-used tropes being trotted out here. Eyes will roll.

And that finale takes a marginal thriller that is worth at least a look right down the rabbit hole of “You have GOT to be kidding me.”

It’s one thing to get a chuckle out of a cop whose limited knowledge of the world means he doesn’t know Honolulu is in Hawaii (Song Kang-ho’s specialty is “slow” characters). It’s another to have a jet that’s made an “emergency declaration” hours before somehow conjure up fuel it surely wouldn’t have as the movie makes its socially-relevant points about a world reluctant to risk bringing a pandemic to their piece of terra firma by letting them land.

Thus, a “mixed bag” thriller drifts into Korean soap opera territory, and never returns from it.

And as a sidebar, hey — Well Go USA (the film’s North American distributor) — it’s 2022. Quit cheaping out with white subtitles on movies set inside a white jetliner, or white offices or against pale while skies. YELLOW subtitles are readable, not the washed-out effort you wasted your money on here. Everybody else pretty much figured that out in the ’90s.

Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim So-jin and Si-wan Yim

Credits: Scripted and directed by Jae-rim Han. A Well Go USA release.

Running time: 2:21

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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