Note: Due to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the theatrical release of The Rescue has been postponed in China and territories worldwide. The movie was originally scheduled to open on Jan 25.
The Rescue (PG13)
Starring Eddie Peng, Wang Yanlin, Xin Zhilei
Directed by Dante Lam
Watching Eddie Peng winch down from a helicopter to save lives in The Rescue is to know that there's hope yet in China-Taiwan co-operation. Add Hongkong director Dante Lam to the mix and this could be a triple-pronged Chinese New Year gathering.
Taiwanese heartthrob Peng plays Captain Gao Qian, the leader of a squad of elite, pumped-up rescuers who risk death, limb and insurance coverage in a maritime organisation called China Rescue And Salvage, China's equivalent of the US Coast Guard. “We risk death to give others hope for life,” goes their motto of bravado, thoroughly dismissing a safer job in a bank.
Peng is the main winchman, head honcho and master of disaster. Which means he gets to go down first via rope from a chopper onto a flaming oil rig, burning tanker, sinking plane, container truck falling into a rushing river, and generally look very heroic, decisive and manly.
Because China films are usually gender-equitable, he is flown into danger by a female pilot, Captain Fan Yuling, played by Xin Zhilei (2016's Crosscurrent) with steely resolve, unflappable air and even more unflappable hair. This gal is so good she can even pick up a tiny key ring using her aircraft. She also, of course, casts furtive glances at her co-captain because Gao is a single dad with a precocious, rather annoying little son who keeps trying to pair the two together.
Anyway, Fan’s steady hands are crucial because, boy, if it’s not one thing, it's another with these incredible high-calamity, high-budget special-effects movies — this one reportedly costs nearly US$100 million (S$135 mil) — where something unexpected always happens, like the chopper going wonky or a damn leg getting stuck. Just when you think it's safe, something explodes, something sinks, someone hears a crying baby somewhere and some overworked public servant has to risk dear life to go in again and again and again some more.
I have to say, though, that Chinese blockbusters are getting pretty good at staging these huge Poseidon Adventure-Towering Inferno-Deepwater Horizon wow-the-heck-out-of-the-audience set pieces, filmed ideally with an entire hospital on standby just in case. The giant CGI fireballs here and in last year's firefighting flick, The Bravest, are so happening they'd likely send Smokey the Bear into permanent retirement.
My fave ARS (Amazing Rescue Scene) in The Rescue is four helicopters using cables to hold up a downed passenger plane full of ang mohs that is sinking into the sea. The team, naturally, scrambles against time and deadly onrushing water to get survivors out before the hovering choppers need to let go.
Three things come to mind during this insane rescue. One: I didn't know helicopters could do this. Two: Notwithstanding the fact that his story was actually a real one, Tom Hanks as the pilot in Sully only ditched his plane in some unchallenging, take-your-sweet-time river compared to this exciting deal.
And three: One Road, One Belt should include One Air too because, man, the ang mohs in severe distress here really needed these crazy lifesavers. At which point, check out the sappy, cringeworthy scenes where Westerners show eternal gratitude to Peng in a sort of gushy reverse kowtow.
Now, the dude, being the elder 30-something here, is also the senior citizen in his crew. His bunch of young hotshots is so square-jawed, chiselled and can-do that they look like escapees from 2016’s Operation Mekong and 2018’s Operation Red Sea. One guy, Wang Yanlin, is actually from Operation Red Sea. He plays Peng's best pal and fellow winchman, Zhao Cheng, who due to his very happy disposition in getting married soon, is predictably and customarily earmarked for a less cheerful fate if you know what I mean.
Those two Operation films, by the way, are director Dante Lam's first two Chinese uniformed services instalments in a series of heroic flicks planned to showcase the modernity and humanity of the mainland and to snag, maybe, a honorary citizenship for himself. The man is now so good at these big-scale epics he even ropes in Oscar-winning cinematographer, Peter Pau from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to, presumably, shoot the softer, humanising side of things.
The Rescue, being about a civilian rescue crew, is, thankfully, not so rah-rah. Unlike military people, the folks here can actually quit which some invariably do. It's good to know that even gungho-ism has its limits and even rescuers have fears too which is refreshing to see.
I like that Peng, despite being so hyper, has serious doubts about his vocation after a particularly traumatic incident. “Once fear comes, it doesn't leave,” a colleague who packs it in warns him.
But I hate that so much rescue time is slowed down here to spend many moments on his young son's angle to domesticate the tale. It's great that Peng and his curly-haired kid spend bonding time together. But there's a personal peril and public peril comparison which looks too phony. And since we’re not really into cutesy kitchy koo stuff here, hey, can we just move it on?
Only in a disaster movie would a big-a** event with people in extreme danger be a welcome sight. Seriously, when Eddie Peng is trapped in the burning hulk of an oil tanker that's sinking into the sea with nowhere to escape, man, that's when we're happiest with the thrills from The Rescue. (***)
Photo: Golden Village