Jae-rim Han’s ‘Emergency Declaration’ Sticks the Landing

When a pilot declares an “emergency declaration,” everything is given priority to that plane as it is in the most imminent danger. All other planes are rerouted or grounded as resources are then directed to that plane until it can land safely. It is the first note to be shown in Jae-rim Han’s new film Emergency Declaration to establish the importance of this statement by the pilot.

Things get a bit complicated though when there is bio-terrorism involved aboard the aircraft — leading to some tense situations and heart-stopping moments.

The film begins at Incheon International Airport when a suspicious young man, Jin-seok Ryu (Si-wan Yim), begins asking the person working at the counter which flights had the most people. Of course they refuse to provide that information, leaving him frustrated. While in the airport bathroom, he cuts himself to hide a capsule containing a deadly, fast-acting virus inside his body to get through security. He encounters a little girl traveling with her father Jae-Hyuk (Byung-hun Lee) and decides to follow them on their flight to Hawaii. Jin-seok then releases the deadly virus on the plane as it takes flight. 

Meanwhile, Sergeant Koo (Kang-ho Song) receives a video of a man threatening to kill everyone on a plane. Koo doesn’t take the threat lightly, especially since his wife just left on a trip with her girlfriends to Hawaii. After discovering Jin-seok is the culprit and on the same plane as his wife, Koo stops at nothing to save her. 

With everything going on in the world, it’s hard to stomach a film that centers around a deadly virus while in a contained space. Emergency Declaration was written prior to the pandemic, but — given the current situation surrounding deadly viruses — the story has a more meaningful impact now than before. During its two-and-a-half hour runtime, it brings up questions and comments on morality, humanity, governmental duties, social responsibility, accountability, sacrifices, and what makes a person like Jin-seok crack. The film was filled with so many twists and turns that you don’t really notice the long duration. It also amps up the anxiety and stakes by adding more and more surprises — like the pilot eating a contaminated meal, the flight attendant sniffing the unknown powder, and body parts beginning to fall apart.

The film does play out like a typical disaster movie with the people aboard the aircraft separating the “infected” and the healthy in the most devastating ways — even though, in the end, they are all infected. There are also government officials deciding the fate of the passengers by either allowing them to land or letting them die in the plane to prevent further spread of the virus. But the film does stir up many emotions as the passengers (and their poor families on the ground) are given moments of hope followed by despair at the idea of infecting others if there is no cure or if the treatment should fail. Han also brings up the concept of terrorists and what could possibly make them commit these crimes. Showing images of past real-life acts of terrorism like the Las Vegas shooting, the film addresses that even the most wealthy and successful — and in some cases for handsome-face Yim as the villain — can commit these crimes and with no reason other than wanting chaos. It’s mind-boggling to imagine so many messages and meanings coming from a mid-air disaster film. 

The production design, cinematography, and CGI on the plane interior are incredible, especially during the scenes when the flight was in immediate danger — causing the plane (and the passengers) to somersault. The still moments — though there aren’t many — capture the intensity of the situation. As the passengers and pilot hold Jin-seok down, he pulls out an inhaler filled with the powderized deadly virus. As he is held down, the scene is slowed down with the camera aimed at his face and inhaler as he releases the chemicals into the air. 

Though the film’s first and second act are constantly filled with action and revelations, the final act felt a bit flat in comparison. In standard action movie fashion, the hero saves the day, but he’s never given that triumphant moment in the end. Instead, it cuts to the assumption that everything was alright. It just didn’t feel satisfying after going through this journey with the passengers. Despite that, the film overall is exciting and never has a dull moment. It’s also great to have a film that reminds you that we’re still in a pandemic and to always carry a mask with you. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Emergency Declaration is out in theaters.