Entertainment / Movie Reviews

Disaster, China Style

Fourteenth in the series of the self-isolation media consumption catch up.

One of the things I discovered way back in 2019 was Chinese produced disaster movies. The first one I heard about and actually watched in the theaters was The Wandering Earth. It was released around the lunar holiday back in 2019 and was a huge hit in China and maybe made a few million in the USA, but clearly we were not the target audience. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (I’ll get it into more below) and over the last year or so I kept hearing about more movies in the genre being produced. Unfortunately, if the movies don’t make it to a mainstream streaming service they are usually difficult to find to watch but in the last couple of months, I was finally rewarded with two more films, Skyfire and The Captain.

First up: The Wandering Earth (2019) (Chinese: 流浪地球).

I think its technically more Sci-Fi than Disaster, but there is a disaster involved so its in the category. The plot is basically sometime in the future it is discovered that the Earth will be devoured by our Sun getting ready to expand due to age. They have 100 years to work out a plan to save civilization. The plan becomes placing engines strategically around the Earth to pilot the planet towards Alpha Centauri and use Jupiter for a gravitational boost.

It doesn’t make much sense, but as mentioned above I really loved this movie. The crazy hijinks of the astronauts son as they are trying to get to the engine and also the sometimes emotional story of the astronaut on the space station were both executed well. Even the special effects were fun to watch. Obviously, sacrifices are made along the way so they really do check off a lot on the “Josh’s Disaster Movie Checklist”. I do think this movie was not as shallow as the usual disaster fare and as a result I was way more emotionally invested.

Editor’s note: For reference here is the checklist:
Characters who have moments we care about between disaster action (this is really a must to make a good Disaster movie)
Token Child or younger nerdy character
Distressed Relationship that grows closer by the end of the movie
Token exchange of sentimental item
token pet the focus of saving or some rescue
the use of the phrase “My God…”
the choice to follow someone
old couple dying together or emotional scene of old person dying
lovable supporting character who gives their life to save others

Second up: Skyfire (2019) (Chinese: 天·火)

I hadn’t really heard of this movie but one day I was browsing a movie site and saw it was about a volcano and a tourist island and I clicked play before I even finished reading the synopsis. The story is about a married couple and child who are researching a volcano on an island and an eruption unexpectedly happens that causes the death of the mother and the estrangement of the daughter with the dad.

Flash forward years later and estranged daughter is now lead geologist on a resort project that is in desperate need of investors and wowing of financial people (hmm this is always a bad sign that things are going to go bad). Dad shows up to try and help but just makes things worse with his daughter. Of course everyone doesn’t want to listen to the warnings so on a scenic Monorail trip to the caldera, it erupts.

A lot of great rescue and action sequences ensue for the rest of the film and I was left with lots of boxes on my disaster checklist crossed off and a good time was had by all. It is so fulfilling when douche bag bad guy gets what he deserves and iconic good guy gets rescued and this movie had both. Jason Issacs turns up as the real estate magnate who doesn’t listen and being a Star Trek Discovery fan, he met a fate that was fitting of Captain Lorca here as well.

Our final movie is The Captain (also 2019) (Chinese: 中国机长)

This is a disaster movie, but its actually based on the real life events of Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8633 flying from Chongqing to Lhasa when one of the front windows in the cockpit blew out mid flight. I can’t remember the last time I was so stressed out during a movie. The events are dramatized for sure but they all have basis in fact.

The movie is a straightforward telling of the story from the moment the crew leave their homes and head to the airport to the final moments in the aircraft after they landed. In between we are treated to a cast of characters based on real people and pretty darn accurate to what I remember from the few domestic flights I took in China. The scenes of the pilot flying after the windshield blew out and the co-pilot was hanging outside the aircraft while obviously fake, looked realistic enough that I freaked out as it happened. So so good. A big positive for me was the characters in the movie. You really felt like you knew them (likely easier since they are real people) and I cheered when they made it. For sure The Captain was one of the best “based on true events” movies I have seen in a long time.

All three movies were very different disaster movies, but all are highly recommended. Whether you want an emotional family drama set against the backdrop of the Earth sailing to Alpha Centauri, a popcorn cheese fest of disaster goodness starring a volcano, or the true life heroics of a cabin crew on a domestic China flight that defy all odds and save everyone – you can’t go wrong. I hope I get to find more Asian disaster movies to watch in the future. Asian TV shows are easier to find, but hopefully more disasters will make their way stateside soon!