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Song Kang-ho in a still from Emergency Declaration.

ReviewCannes 2021: Emergency Declaration movie review – Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun in slick but silly Korean air-disaster thriller

  • A bioterrorist incident aboard a US-bound airliner is the starting point for a movie that’s spectacularly shot but has a less than stellar script
  • Singer Im Si-wan impresses as the terrorist, but Lee Byung-hun as a doomed passenger and Song Kang-ho as a comedic cop can’t deliver a smooth landing
Asian cinema

2.5/5 stars

At the beginning of this slick but silly South Korean air-disaster movie from director Han Jae-rim (The Face Reader), a caption explains that if a plane is in danger, a pilot issuing an “emergency declaration” to the authorities is like declaring martial law. This is all very well, but when your passenger aircraft is carrying a deadly virus the chances are you aren’t going to be landing anywhere.

Playing out of competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Emergency Declaration starts very promisingly as a well-dressed young man (South Korean singer Im Si-wan, recently in the Netflix series Run On) is seen, gruesomely, smuggling a capsule into a wound in his armpit.

Once on board Sky Korea Flight 501, bound for Honolulu, he releases the canister in the toilet; the deadly virus causes itching, blisters and much worse.

It doesn’t take long for the other passengers to figure out what he’s done, sealing their doom by exposing them all to this toxin. On the ground, the police are alerted to his bioterrorism after he releases a video online promising to attack an aircraft.

“This is where it all ends,” he declares. Led by Sergeant Koo ( Parasite star Song Kang-ho), the cops soon discover his apartment and his master plan.


While its 147-minute running time is too long, Emergency Declaration does have a Hollywood blockbuster quality to its set pieces.

A scene where the pilot collapses and the plane begins to plummet towards the ocean is brilliantly shot, with several luckless unbuckled passengers thrown around the economy cabin like rag dolls as the aircraft spins out of control.

Im Si-wan in a still from Emergency Declaration.

After the plane is refused permission to land in American airspace, the US authorities dubbing it a “biochemical missile”, the aircraft is forced to turn around, a plot point that really does the film no favours.

On board, Koo’s wife is one of the endangered passengers, while a father (Lee Byung-hun) travelling with his child, who has eczema, has his own inner demons to face. But neither sub-plot adds much.

The film also suffers from imbuing the law enforcers with a Keystone Cops quality that doesn’t help ratchet up the tension.

Lee Byung-hun in a still from Emergency Declaration.

Im Si-wan is very watchable as the young terrorist – just the right amount of weird. But there isn’t enough of him in a film that comes in for a very bumpy landing.

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