Flash Over Review: China Showcases Firefighting Capabilities In By-The-Numbers Disaster Pic From Director Of The Eye
Flash Over (PG13)
Starring Du Jiang, Wang Qianyuan, Tong Liya, Han Xue, Yu Haoming, Han Dongjun, Wang Ge
Directed by Oxide Pang
China really loves disaster movies.
Giant fire, avalanche, airplane trouble, pandemic, earthquake. These are ideal opportunities to showcase the virtues of duty, courage, teamwork, and sacrifice. And most significantly, the big collective rescue effort which unites people, turns uniformed personnel into heroes, and makes the country look strong, steady and orderly.
This straightforward, predictable flick activates something called the National Industrial Incident Response Plan.
Explosions, massive fires, and toxic gas leakages break out in Guancheng Chemical Industrial Park after an earthquake — not the big deal here — strikes. It’s an all-hands-on-deck strategy that summons rescue teams to arrive with increasingly sophisticated hardware.
All it needs is for the first responders to hold out until the cavalry — dubbed the “main force” — comes.
A small group of determined but out-matched local firefighters (the primary focus here) ventures into terra and terror incognita to put their lives on the line before reinforcements show up and provincial officials send state-of-the-art equipment such as foam-shooting robots and dig this, “fire suppression missiles”.
“We must hold on until the fire suppression missiles attack,” goes the militaristic order. Cue a groundswell of national pride as you half expect wolf warrior Wu Jing to pop up here.
The most interesting thing is this time, compared with 2019’s The Bravest which this film resembles, there’s an Information Officer, Han Kai (Du Jiang from Operation Red Sea, The Bravest), who operates a flying drone from a rooftop right at the frontline.
It looks like the cushiest job in the unit until he himself needs to save someone he spots. You do get confused, as expected, about who’s saving whom since everybody’s covered up and wearing similar rescue gear.
But these action scenes — teetering on rickety ladders, a rope crawl above deadly burning debris, sawing off a metal rod sticking out of a girl’s leg — are quite riveting. Although you keep wondering what else could go wrong since there always seems to be an unexpected catch somewhere.
FYI, this dashing dude, Han, doesn’t handle press conferences. In China’s version, the IO’s role is to relay vital info via the drone to his superiors in the rear who execute the game plan.
You know he’s the Tom Cruise-hunk because he jogs bare-chested with his teammates in slo-mo like it’s Top Gun. And he has the aw-shucks hots for the pretty chemical safety expert, Ye Xin (Tong Liya from The Wandering Earth II) — ala Kelly McGillis’s brainy chick in the original TG — who’s fated, of course, to encounter him again.
Plus, in a rare light-hearted moment, the man also makes a cutesy PR video which softens the danger of the firefighters’ work and the sternness of his indefatigably strong-willed leader, Captain Zhao Yingqi (The Eight Hundred’s Wang Qianyuan).
The tough boss pushes his brave squad, especially Han, hard. But only because he cares too much. A fact which Zhao’s schoolteacher-girlfriend, Zhang Hong (Come Back Home’s Han Xue), finds difficult to deal with in a singular spot of discontentment in a tale about communal unity that contains virtually zero conflict.
Nope. Everybody follows instructions and no one goes Hollywood-style cowboy here.
Because while the team is stocked with the usual disaster-pic characters — one guy looks forward to his elderly dad’s birthday, another is pumped up for an upcoming firefighter competition — you’d like that while they’re gung-ho, they aren’t reckless. Since by now, these Chinese calamity flicks are getting pretty good at creating relatable ordinary people.
“Get ready for the final attack. Don’t let your guard down,” the order is fired against the enveloping fires. As though this is a war movie. Which, considering the enormous scorched-earth destruction levelled on the surrounding area by explosions so large even heavy fire trucks are tossed about like toys, this film really looks like one.
The nuke-size blast — the CGI looks kinda phony — rips right through the city, block after block, away from Ground Zero, including a school filled with kids with nowhere to flee to except the rooftop. It provides a telling scene where, amid the chaos, an ominous plume of black smoke emerges silently up a stairwell like an ancient apocalyptical dragon.
Making you wonder whether this show, deep down, is actually a confidence-building pic about how the mainland would handle a devastated city in the event of war.
Since Flash Over, helmed by Hong Kong director Oxide Pang, with its standard mix of humanised rescuers, dedicated public officials, grateful civilians, modern technology and even a romance among the ruins, is simply too one-track, confined and direct to be anything beyond being an extended promo reel for just such an unimaginable wartime scenario.
By the way, Pang himself is quite used to fiery exploits, having already traded his horror-movie penchant in chillers such as The Eye and Re-cycle for a pyro-laden one in 2013’s heaty thriller, Out Of Inferno.
Now, it’s sort of boring having everything happening in one place. Unlike say, 2020’s The Rescue, which saw Eddie Peng go through a compendium of different disasters.
But, apart from the school scenes, director Pang does mostly and wisely fill up, as the crew tries to stop giant tank after giant tank from blowing up, the dramatic lulls between fires quite effectively by spending more time on the purposeful firefighters instead of helpless civilians whom we don’t really care too much about.
As an aftershock hits to mess up things up again just when everybody thinks that the crisis is over, I have to say this — the fate of hard men just seems more compelling here than the plight of soft people. Especially when Du’s Han Kai is likeable and Wang’s Captain Zhao is a gripping Mount Rushmore of granite stoicism.
It is to director Pang’s credit that he’s not afraid to let characters we follow keenly die.
And to ours too when we are moved when we see that happen.
The title, by the way, is a term used to describe "the sudden and rapid spread of fire through air, caused by the ignition of smoke or fumes from surrounding objects.” Now you know. (3/5 stars)