A strange man (Yim Si-wan) loiters around Incheon International Airport, first harassing a flight attendant for her welcoming smile, then intimidating the young girl who witnesses him cut himself in the men’s bathroom. Meanwhile, a video announcing a terrorist attack has been leaked to Seoul’s police department, but only detective In-ho (Cannes jury member Song Kang-ho) takes it as an honest threat. By the time the little girl and her father board their plane to Hawaii and realise the irrational passenger has chosen to join their flight, it is too late to stop the calamity that is already set in motion.

Emergency Declaration director Han Jae-Rim delivers a nail-biting thriller that – like the aeroplane at the centre of its plot – changes course halfway through. After having kept the audience at the edge of their seats in suspense, the feature soft-footedly turns to moral suasion, offering up a plea for altruism. The South Korean production has all the makings of a mainstream blockbuster, particularly when it comes to the superlative pace in which information is delivered to the spectator.

In order to breathe, viewers are given brief moments of comic relief, such as a scene in which the detectives are wisened up by the tech-savvy younger generation of affluent Koreans, who speak immaculate English. Potential factual inaccuracies are textually addressed from the get-go – “Can you telephone on an airplane?” … “On this one you can.”

The performances are occasionally a touch melodramatic, but this is entirely forgivable considering the high stakes of the storyline. In a surprising development, K-Pop star Yim Si-wan stands out as villainous Jin-seok. His utterly innocent smile makes his performance of the creepy, indecipherable antagonist reminiscent of Seven’s John Doe.

While pre-production for the film started before the outbreak of the pandemic, the feature raises particularly topical questions. The fact that a virus mutation was chosen as bioterrorism weapon and that several countries deny the doomed plane permission to land, fearing a spread of the disease on their territory, is emphatically pertinent.

Emergency Declaration takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster that they are not likely to forget anytime soon.

★★★★☆

Selina Sondermann

Emergency Declaration (Bi-sang-seon-eon) does not have a UK release date set.

For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.

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