Review: ‘Emergency Declaration,’ starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan, Kim So-jin and Park Hae-joon

November 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Yim Si-wan in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration”

Directed by Han Jae-rim

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly on a plane flight from South Korea to Hawaii, the action film “Emergency Declaration” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A plane carrying about 150 passengers about gets hijacked by a mysterious stranger and has to make an emergency landing. 

Culture Audience: “Emergency Declaration” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspenseful movies about airplane crises.

Song Kang-ho in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration” does not do anything groundbreaking in its depiction of an airplane hijacking, but this action flick delivers plenty of suspense to make it memorable. The movie’s acting performances are also worth seeing. The scenarios portrayed in the movie are so harrowing, people who have a fear of flying will probably be even more afraid after seeing “Emergency Declaration.” The movie’s total running time is about two hours and 20 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long, because the pace doesn’t drag.

Written and directed by Han Jae-rim, “Emergency Declaration” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in France) follows an expected formula for plane hijacking movies. Some of the passengers are first seen in the airport before boarding the plane. There’s at least one person on board the plane who’s acting suspiciously because their plan is to hijack the plane. And then all hell breaks loose.

In “Emergency Declaration,” the ill-fated airplane flight is Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501, going from Seoul to Hawaii. The plane is carrying 150 passengers. Two of these passengers are Park Jae-hyuk (played by Lee Byung-hun) and his daughter Soo-min (played by Kim Bo-min), who’s about 9 or 10 years old and has skin eczema. (Her skin condition becomes an issue later in the story.)

At the airport, a man in his mid-30s, who viewers later find out is named Ryu Jin-seok (played by Yim Si-wan, also known as Im Si-wan and Siwan), approaches a ticket agent at Sky Korea Airlines to buy a ticket. “I want to go someplace where a lot of people go,” he tells the female agent. She suggests Hawaii and tells him that the next plane to Hawaii is leaving on Flight 501.

Jin-seok asks the ticket agent how many people are on the flight. When the ticket agent tells him that she doesn’t have the authority to tell him that information, he looks annoyed and walks away. And then, Jin-seok walks back to the ticket agent and coldly tells her: “For God’s sake, don’t smile like that. You look like a whore.”

In a private area at the airport, Jin-seok places a vial underneath his right arm by cutting his arm and sewing in the vial. His hateful remark to the ticket agent already showed that he’s a nasty person. But once he sews a vial into his arm, you just know that this passenger will probably be up to no good with that vial when he gets on the plane.

Meanwhile, a police detective in his 50s named Gu In-ho (played by Song Kang-ho) has been scheduled to be on this flight with his wife Gu Hye-yoon (played by Woo Mi-hwa), because the spouses are taking a vacation. However, In-ho has to cancel being on the flight because he’s suddenly called to be at work for an emergency: A man uploaded a video threatening to hijack a South Korean plane that day. Hye-yoon decides she will take the trip by herself.

In the waiting area before boarding the flight, protective father Jae-hyuk notices that Jin-seok has been staring at Jae-hyuk and his daughter Soo-min. Jin-seok begins asking Jae-hyuk personal questions, such as where they are going and if Jae-hyuk is married. Jae-hyuk says that they’re going to Hawaii, but he’s starting to feel uneasy around this nosy stranger.

Jin-seok starts asking more personal questions. Jae-hyuk gets so uncomfortable, he eventually snaps at Jin-seok and tells him to mind his own business. Jin-seok then decides to buy a one-way ticket to Hawaii on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501. In the X-ray area before boarding the flight, Jin-seok has an inhaler that’s detected. He tells the security employees that he has an inhaler for asthma.

Meanwhile, police have burst into an apartment and found the bloody corpse of a man encased in plastic. The initial cause of death is determined to be poisoning. This man was apparently killed by the same poison that killed some rats in a glass tank nearby. It won’t come as too much of a surprise that this death has something to do with what happens on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501.

On the flight, Jae-hyuk is unsettled when he sees that Jin-seok is on the same plane, which eventually takes off for its destination. He tells a flight attendant about the uncomfortable encounter that he and Soo-min had with Jin-seok, and that this stranger could be a suspicious passenger. Jae-hyuk feels even more uneasy when he sees Jin-seok put something under Jin-seok’s armpit.

When Jae-hyuk reports this suspicious act to a flight attendant, Jin-seok denies that he did anything wrong. Jin-seok also says that he’s a scientist on his way to a convention in Hawaii. But, of course, Jin-seok is not the harmless passenger he pretends to be. And you can easily guess what happens next.

The rest of “Emergency Declaration” shows the chaos that ensues when Jin-seok takes the plane hostage. He’s not armed with a gun, but he has another weapon that causes damage to people on the plane. In-ho becomes the police detective who gets involved in the rescue mission, which is obviously very personal for him because his wife is on the plane.

Other people on the ground who are involved in the rescue mission are transport minister Kim Sook-hee (played by Jeon Do-yeon) and a presidential crisis management center chief named Tae-su (played by Park Hae-joon), who try to assist the plane in making an emergency landing, in addition yo trying to negotiate with the hostage taker. On the plane, a co-pilot named Choi Hyun-soo (played by Kim Nam-gil) and a flight attendant named Hee-jin (played by Kim So-jin) are the main people who try to keep the plane passengers as calm as possible, which is no easy task because there is some death on this plane.

In addition to the nerve-racking action that takes place in the movie, there’s the mystery of Jin-seok and why he decided to hijack this plane. This mystery unfolds during the story and the answers are eventually revealed. The movie drops major clues before Jin-seok took the plane hostage, so observant viewers probably won’t be surprised when his secrets are revealed.

However, the revelation is still compelling enough, because it explains why there is such an urgent “race against time” aspect to the story. The performances by Song and Yim stand out because they are written to be the most obvious opponents in this crisis and therefore have the most emotional depth. It’s a classic “good versus evil” plot, but Jin-seok’s motivations for his heinous crimes are explained enough so that he’s not portrayed as just a shallow villain who wants to kill people.

The editing and cinematography of “Emergency Declaration” are so well-done, some viewers will feel like they’re experiencing the terror along with the passengers, as well as the anxiety of the rescuers on the ground. The movie’s storyline doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. However, “Emergency Declaration” will make viewers think more about why this type of hijacking occurs in real life and to look for any warning signs to possibly prevent it.

Well Go USA released “Emergency Declaration” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on January 22, 2022. “Emergency Declaration” is set for release on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on November 29, 2022.

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