November 26, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Li Jun
Mandarin with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in China’s Yunjiang county of the Guizhou province, the action film “Cloudy Mountain” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: An estranged father and son must find a way to work together to save a busload of people who are trapped in a cave after a mountain avalanche, earthquake and other catastrophes that happen in a short period of time.
Culture Audience: “Cloudy Mountain” will appeal primarily to people who are interested watching formulaic disaster movies that have a lot of unrealistic action sequences and corny dialogue.
“Cloudy Mountain” is a formulaic and forgettable disaster movie where some people get trapped in an avalanche. It’s an apt metaphor for how this action melodrama gets buried by an avalanche of hokey dialogue and cringeworthy clichés. There is absolutely nothing surprising about anything that happens in this movie. It’s bad enough that the movie’s suspense is very phony and forced. It’s even worse that “Cloudy Mountain” gets more and more ridiculous until the movie reaches its very predictable ending.
Directed by Li Jun (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Sha Song), “Cloudy Mountain” also presents many generic characters with little or no backstory or memorable personalities. All of the movie’s cast members give performances that are mediocre or substandard, while the visual effects in “Cloudy Mountain” are adequate. The movie’s story structure is very jumbled, possibly to confuse viewers into thinking that “plot holes” equal “intrigue and mystery.”
“Cloudy Mountain” also has an overload of too many disasters happening in a short period of time, with people being caught off guard. In real life (not in a badly made disaster movie), all of the geological shifts that are depicted would have been detected over time by scientists, not suddenly noticed on the day that the mountain collapses. But there would be no “Cloudy Mountain” movie if it were scientifically accurate.
The movie takes place in China’s southwest region—specifically, Yunjiang county of the Guizhou province. At Yudang Mountain (also known as Mount Yundang), the Yunjiang Tunnel Project has been under construction for 10 years and is about to be completed. Just like many of the mountains in this region, Mount Yundang was created from volcanic formations. And you know what that means for this type of movie.
At the center of the story are geo-engineer Hong Yizhou (played by Yilong Zhu) and his railway construction worker father Hong Yungbing (played by Zhi-zhong Huang), who have had a rocky relationship for quite some time. Yungbing (who is a widower) is part of the China Railway Construction team that has been building the Yunjiang Tunnel Project. Yizhou (who is a bachelor) thinks that this type of construction could disrupt the volatile structure of mountains and potentially be disastrous. Yizhou believes in modern technology that can forecast possible danger that comes when the mountain shifts, while Yungbing doesn’t believe in this technology.
Yizhou, who is in his 20s, has a co-worker named Lu Xiaojin (played by Junyan Jiao), who is around the same age. When an unmarried man and an unmarried woman work together this closely in a disaster movie, the film usually has a contrived plot where the man and the woman have heated disagreements, even though it’s obvious that they’re attracted to each other. As they go through the disaster together, they become closer and fall in love.
A contrived romance is the one cliché for a disaster movie that “Cloudy Mountain” didn’t use, because Lu Xiaojin and Hong Yizhou remain as platonic co-workers throughout the story. When Lu Xiaojin makes a mistake and miscalculates a forecast, she gets yelled at by a supervisor. Hong Yizhou comes to Lu Xiaojin’s defense by saying that the condition of the mountain is always changing.
Yizhou and Lu Xiaojin are not romantically involved with each other, but he does have a love interest. Yizhou has been dating a no-nonsense scientist supervisor named Ding Yajun (played by Shu Chen), who spends most of her screen time at Zi Yakou Command Center, looking tensely at giant video monitors or barking orders to people as the disasters start coming at a rapid pace. And yes, there’s more than one disaster in this atrociously over-the-top movie.
Earthquakes, flooding, mudslides, giant land fissures and landslides that turn into avalanches are just some of the catastrophes that come down hard on this region, which has a population of about 160,000 people. And it all happens in a 48-hour period. “Cloudy Mountain” is supposed to be based on real events, but the movie has so many far-fetched scenarios, it’s hard to believe it was based on any type of reality.
“Cloudy Mountain” is quite muddled in explaining what caused the disasters, but there’s mention of tectonic plates shifting in the Indian Ocean, combined with the work on Yunjiang Tunnel Project. Because in a movie this, even though the construction was going on for 10 years, everything comes crashing down with hardly any advance warning in a matter of hours. One minute people are going about their daily lives. The next minute, the ground cracks open with big holes that cause automobiles to crash, people to fall into crevices on the street, and buildings to topple.
The only indication that a disaster is coming is when Yizhou uses cable wire to climb the mountain, and his computer detection shows “unusual activity.” Apparently, Yizhou is the only person in China who spotted this problem in advance. Predictably, no one listens to him until it’s too late.
Yizhou goes through so many crazy scenarios in this movie that would leave a real person dead or permanently disabled, but he has a superhuman ability to overcome whatever happens. In one scene, his car flips over and crashes into the water. That leads to a flashback that shows how his mother died, which explains why Yizhou and his father don’t have a very good relationship. It should come as no surprise that Yizhou carries around a lot of guilt and shame about his mother’s death.
Meanwhile, his father Yungbing finds himself trapped in a cave with people who crashed in their bus. And lo and behold, somehow Yizhou got himself out of his drowning situation and now he’s in the cave too. It gets dark, and Yizhou tells Yungbing that it’s too dark and cold to try to find their way out of the cave at night. Yungbing vehemently disagrees. The expected father/son bickering ensues.
And did we mention that Ding Yajun and her team have decided the best way to stop a crumbling mountain is to blow part of it up? Does she know that the part of the mountain that will get blown up has a cave where her boyfriend Yizhou and his father Yungbing are trapped? Does anyone care? It’s hard to care about pile-ons of ludicrousness when how it’s all badly staged filler until the movie’s inevitable sappy conclusion.
China Lion Film Distribution released “Cloudy Mountain” in select U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021. The movie was released in China on September 11, 2021.