The process of reviewing recent Chinese releases (particularly blockbusters) is becoming somewhat redundant. With each film, I find myself criticizing the same two points; bad effects and worse nationalism. And with their industry quickly surpassing Hollywood as the most profitable, there are absolutely no incentives for them alter the formula I am just as quickly tiring of. Even with the dramatic retelling of historical events, it is not uncommon for there to be an overreliance on poorly executed CGI. The Climbers insists on making its characters inhumanly heroic in their abilities, which is almost as ridiculous as the transparent Chinese nationalism that runs through every scene of dialogue. It almost seems as though the absurd abilities the CGI gives the heroic characters is meant to solidify this idea that Chinese patriotism is paired with superhuman abilities. In a genre film, this could be forgiven as escapism, but in The Climbers, it is only in service of bad melodrama.
The film follows the true story of the members of the China Everest Climbing Commando as they attempt to prove the claim that China was the first to scale the mountain from the North Ridge. After the leader of the first climb in 1960 was tragically killed, Fang Wuzhou (Jing Wu) led the remaining men to the top. On the way, Fang makes the difficult choice to let the camera fall, so that he can save the cameraman. As a result, certain members of the international mountain climbing community refuse to take the Chinese at their word, denying official recognition. And since reputation and Chinese pride seems to be everything, a new group is put together to risk more lives for the honor.
Unable to live with his perceived failure, Fang takes on the task of heading up the mission, training an all-new group of climbers. Joining them is weather expert and Fang’s romantic interest, Xu Ying (Ziyi Zhang), who has waited patiently for a life with a man obsessed with his past. This relationship may lack any real context or realism, but it makes up for it with an avalanche of manipulative melodrama and contrived scenarios. The only thing more calculating is the claim that Jackie Chan is in the film, when you could easily miss him if you blinked.
As terrible and unnecessary as much of the dramatic aspects of the storyline are, the main film for watching a film like this (or any climbing film, for that matter) is the suspense of the sequences of dangerous mountain traversing. The Climbers doesn’t bother getting pulled down by accurate depictions or thoughtful examinations of what it actually takes to complete the feats, but instead settles for ridiculous scenes such as a climber removing his shoes to climb better barefoot. Then there are the times that tragedy falls, either because someone slips or an avalanche threatens to take them out, in which case some unrealistically heroic fit somehow manages to save them from the green screen threats. An entire wall of ice even falls on a character, but he is somehow strong enough to endure the blow with his body.
If you can’t tell yet, I was not impressed with nearly any aspect of The Climbers. The bad melodrama could have been forgiven if the action were more believable, and the awful CGI sequences may have been more endurable if these felt like real people rather than living depictions of statues erected as a tribute. In short, this movie treats its audience like simpletons, which doesn’t encourage a thoughtful analysis from viewers. To put it bluntly, this movie is stupid. At times, it is also stupidly entertaining, but only incidentally.
The Blu-ray release for The Climbers contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as trailers. The only other reason for watching this film in high definition is to see that the CGI looks bad in any format. This movie isn’t awful, but it is far closer to that than it is to ‘good.’
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 4/10
Historical Significance: 2/10
Special Features: 2.5/10