It wasn’t that long ago that Hollywood made
movies like Emergency Declaration, with big budgets and spectacle
involving everyday people put in extraordinary situations. Nowadays it seems
like all of those budgets and spectacle are directed towards fantasy films,
primary in the superhero subgenre, so it is a welcome change to see South
Korean cinema providing some variety. Although the film was made prior to the
Covid pandemic, Emergency Declaration has themes that perfectly
encapsulate the current paranoia about public spaces, especially when traveling
in a confined space like an airplane.
As a commercial flight from Incheon Airport to Hawaii departs, police detective Gu In-ho (Song Kang-ho) responds to reports of a video posted with threats of a possible terrorist attack. After investigating further, In-ho discovers the threat was made by Ryu Jin-seok (Im Si-wan), a man who worked with contagious diseases before being fired. In-ho also discovers Jin-seok has boarded the same flight as his wife, and quickly alerts all authorities of the threat. When Jin-seok unleashes a contagion on the plane, it creates panic among the passengers, including former pilot Park Jae-hyuk (Lee Byung-hun), who is on his way to start a new life as a flight instructor with his young daughter.
Jae-hyuk stopped flying after a previous incident during a flight resulted in the death of flight attendants, but he must step up and help the pilot, Choi Hyun-soo (Kim Nam-gil), who he has a complicated history with. As is often the case in South Korean films, the suspense and action of the plot are balanced with a heavy dose of melodrama and emotional sentimentality. In other words, the characters and their journey is just as important to the story as the action itself. This is a welcome addition, grounding the narrative when some of moments of spectacle become slightly outlandish.
I was skeptical that the storyline of Emergency Declaration would be enough for the lengthy run-time of 140-minutes. While it could have been a bit tighter, the film does make the most out of the premise with a surprising number of twists and turns. Although I would hate to be on this flight, it is an exciting one to watch from the safety and isolation of my couch. The themes also have universal relevance to the current climate. If Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion saw increased attention following the outbreak, I can imagine the same audiences would appreciate what Emergency Declaration has to offer.
The Blu-ray release for Emergency Declaration a handful of extras, including a making-of featurette and interviews with cast and crew from the Cannes Film Festival. There is also a featurette about the characters and a 360 shot in the film. The high-definition presentation of the film should also be mentioned, as the film includes a reliance on CGI that is improved by this.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 6/10