Emergency Declaration is an action-thriller dealing with terrorism and contagion in a post-Covid world. It stars Song Kang-ho of Parasite (2019) and Lee Byung-hun of Squid Game (2021), arguably two of South Korea’s biggest acting talents in terms of being well known to American audiences.
The film opens with an explanation of an emergency declaration: when it is declared by a flight crew, that plane is given priority over all other flights landing at an airport due to the need of emergency personnel handling a situation as quickly as possible. What unfolds is a terrifying scenario. An online video threatening an attack on an airplane full of passengers prompts a call to police, who find a dead body and videos of a deadly experiment involving a virus in an apartment. The story shifts to the airport where Jin-seok (Im Si-wan) is trying to get a ticket for a flight with a lot of passengers, while others are navigating the procedures before boarding. Police sergeant In-ho (Song Kang-ho) heads to the airport, alerting aviation authorities, but also hoping his wife’s flight to Hawaii isn’t involved.
Meanwhile, on the plane, Jae-hyuk (Lee Byung-hun), who is taking his daughter to Hawaii for a new start, sees the online video threatening a terror attack. He realizes the person making the threats is on the plane, but not before Jin-seok releases the deadly virus. Jin-seok is subdued by the pilot, but passengers have now been exposed. It then becomes a race against time to find a vaccine and/or treatment, and find a place to safely land the plane.
Emergency Declaration was conceived prior to the Covid pandemic, but watching the film after a global virus has caused unprecedented fear increases its capacity for anxiety. The pharmaceutical company responsible for the virus is just as much a villain as Jin-seok since it has to be forced by the government to cooperate and provide the treatment to save the passengers. Governments are not immune from criticism, either, as some countries refuse to allow the plane to land, for fear of spreading the virus, even though a treatment does exist. The fact that most of the film takes place on a plane full of infected and dying passengers gives a claustrophobic feel, making everything that much more frightening and increasing the urgency for a resolution. Writer-director Han Jae-rim does an excellent job building tension until almost the last possible moment. There is a bit too much melodrama, and the existence of a treatment is rather convenient, but strong acting ensures that the story is consistently engrossing.
As with many South Korean blockbusters, Emergency Declaration runs a little long and probably could have been edited down from its 140 minutes. However, the build-up is well handled and it never really flags so comes highly recommended.
Colleen Wanglund is a self-described bookwhore, gorehound, and metalhead. She can usually be found with a book in her hand or on her laptop, either watching movies or writing about them. Colleen has also been known to frequent midnight screenings of some of her favorite flicks, as she lives in New York City—the best city for seeing movies.