I saw this one alongside Hansan, which made for a terrific double-feature. Where the historical drama reinforces the idea of Korea, the country, Emergency Declaration showcases Koreans, the people, as they view themselves today (plausibly). I should note that some Korean criticisms of the film thought it was too mawkish, too manipulative, too try-hardy, and too long.
These criticisms are valid, yet they mostly didn’t bother me. (Some of the manipulativeness was unnecessarily heavy-handed. The lily was gilded, as it were.)
The premise is this: A crazy bioengineer looses a nightmare diseases in the closed cabin of a plane on its way to Hawaii. (As we saw in our last airplane-based movie, OK Madam, Hawaii is a popular vacation spot for Koreans.) This is discovered on the way, and the initial thought is that the plane will land in Hawaii and everyone will be quarantined until the matter is resolved (or they all end up dead).
There’s gonna be spoilers, but I think you could probably guess all the twists-and-turns. The movie isn’t really about clever, surprising moments: It’s an exercise in hypotheticals.
The USA refuses to let the Korean flight land, to the point where the US government is willing to blow it out of the air. So they turn back. Next stop: Japan.
Do I even have to say how the Japanese feel about having a plane load of sick Koreans land on their little island? In a Korean movie?
The part here that didn’t quite work for me is that I’ve seen enough Korean movies to not even find it remotely plausible that a Korean plane full of infectious would be allowed to land in Japan. This is the downside of painting the Japanese so cartoonishly evil in every movie: I don’t buy it for a second when you say they’re going to do something decent. (In real life, I think the Japanese would handle it as a matter of pride and humanity. The US, probably, too, though the US government might decide to bring the plane all the way over to LAX to infect the maximum number of people. Tell me I’m exaggerating. I dare ya.)
The real point of the story, though, is how everyone reacts to the unfolding situation: Each disappointment at being turned away, Top Men searching for answers on the ground, and people starting to die on the plane—this all plays out in classic disaster movie form, with bits of society reacting in different and evolving ways to the progress of the plot.
Korean movies tend to paint modern Koreans in pretty much the same way: They’re selfish, vain, short-sighted, afraid…until they’re not any more. When confronted with a terrible choice, they will make a sacrifice over harming others. But they’ll go through the various emotional stages on their way to making peace with doing what’s right.
I dunno, that feels very universally human to me, and carries the whole thing through some of the more preposterous/poorly designed parts.
In particular, the loophole that keeps the movie from being utterly depressing is a potential cure, which is being hidden by the (American run, heh) pharmaceutical company that engineered the virus (though didn’t let it go, can’t be TOO on-the-money). State functionaries work to discover this, and use the power of the state to force the company to admit they have it.
Part of the Korean Myth is that their government still works on some level.
Disaster movies tend to be long and mawkish and kind of clunky because they’re trying to build this class-crossing melodrama, and Emergency Declaration is no exception. It features an all-star cast including your favorites from such films as Parasite, Ashfall, I Saw The Devil (2010, Korea), Beasts That Cling To The Straw, and even OK! Madam! Box office may have been a bit disappointing but are well ahead of the likely Oscar contender Decision To Leave, and also the upcoming Broker (where the great Japanese director Kore-eda directs a Korean cast, including many of the people in this movie).