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Zhang Hanyu (right) and Yuan Quan in a still from The Captain (category IIA; Mandarin). Du Jiang co-stars.

Review | The Captain film review: Andrew Lau returns to form with air-disaster movie based on real-life accident

  • Director’s best film in years, though that is not saying much, this story of a pilot who miraculously lands an airliner after a windscreen blowout is well told
  • The best scenes are those in the air; those on the ground are filled with cheesy dialogue. There’s some nationalistic tub thumping at the end

3/5 stars

After a string of lucrative but critically maligned films, Hong Kong director Andrew Lau Wai-keung returns to form in this air-disaster movie. The Captain was one of the top-grossing films in China’s national day holiday week earlier this month, when it was up against other patriotic offerings such as My People, My Country and The Climbers .

That it’s also Lau’s best directing effort in years says more about his recent poor choices than it does about this film’s qualities. After such underwhelming movies as Revenge of the Green Dragons , From Vegas to Macau III , The Founding of an Army and Kung Fu Monster , the law of averages would suggest that the director is due for a rebound.

The Captain is loosely based on the heroics of a pilot who miraculously landed an airliner after part of its cockpit windscreen blew out in mid-flight over the Tibetan plateau in May 2018. It offers a slick reimagination of that near-disaster, even if it feels a little soulless. Despite the jingoistic Chinese title of China Captain, Lau sensibly confines its nationalistic tub thumping to a brief epilogue.

Zhang Hanyu plays Liu Changjian, a no-nonsense pilot who used to fly bombers for the Chinese air force. On the day he’s due to celebrate his young daughter’s birthday (how interesting), Liu is commanding a Sichuan Airlines flight that encounters a potentially deadly situation on its way from Chongqing in western China to Lhasa in Tibet. When part of the windscreen blows out, his co-pilot (played by Ou Hao) is almost sucked out of the cockpit.

It should come as no surprise to disaster movie fans that the scenes of mid-air crisis in The Captain are far more captivating than those on the ground, where every shot and line of dialogue is cheesy, clichéd and dragged out for effect. Lau’s symphonic approach in showing almost every crew member, passenger, member of ground staff and air-traffic control centre personnel throughout the ordeal is refreshing at first, but quickly becomes tiring.

Ou Hao in a still from The Captain.

Zhang, a veteran at playing military types, is well cast in the stoic title role, while Yuan Quan adds unexpected gravitas in her role as the in-flight service manager who keeps everyone safe and calm. In spite of the meaningless flirting to which Lau subjects some of his characters, his film largely succeeds in picturing how a perfectly professional flight crew are key to averting a disaster.

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