REVIEW: The Rescue is an explosive popcorn disaster movie

·4-min read
Eddie Peng, Wang Yanlin and Xin Zhilei star in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)
Eddie Peng, Wang Yanlin and Xin Zhilei star in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)

Rating: PG13
Length: 138 minutes
Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Eddie Peng, Wang Yanlin, Xin Zhilei
Language: Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles

Release date: 31 December 2020 (Singapore)

3 out of 5 stars

The Rescue was originally scheduled to be released in January this year, but the onset of the COVID-19 virus outbreak in China scuttled those plans. Now it’s finally hitting screens after a delay of one year.

Captain Gao Qian (Eddie Peng) is the main winchman of China Rescue And Salvage — an elite team of rescue workers not unlike the US Coast Guard. This means he’s the go-to guy that dangles dangerously from a helicopter and is sent into the heart of all manner of disasters in order to save any survivors. After one harrowing rescue that strikes fear into the heart of his fellow rescue workers, half of his team quits, which only reinforces Gao Qian’s resolve to save as many people as he can.

Enter female pilot Fan Yuling (Xin Zhilei), whose no-nonsense attitude and professional demeanour quickly catch the attention of Gao Qian. The tension between them doesn’t go unnoticed as Gao Qian’s son, Cong Cong (Zhang Jingyi) tries to get them together.

The story may be a simple one, but the movie is director Dante Lam’s third outing paying tribute to the men and women of China’s rescue forces. But while Operation Mekong and Operation Red Sea were about the armed forces, China Rescue And Salvage consists mostly of civilians working in what must be one of the toughest and most challenging jobs in the world.

Eddie Peng in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)
Eddie Peng in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)

Lam’s previous movies about China’s armed personnel were bona fide hits, and two of the top grossing movies to come out of the country in recent years. This track record meant that The Rescue had a budget in excess of a whopping US$90 million, and was able to shoot on location in Xiamen and Mexico.

The mark of any good disaster thriller lies in the complexity and the scenarios and the pacing, and in these tests, The Rescue passes with flying colours. The complicated factors that make up each scenario multiply with every succeeding disaster or industrial accident, resulting in daring, nail-biting rescues that see the squad push themselves further and further in the hopes of finding survivors. It’s more than enough to keep even the most jaded movie-goer on the edge of their seat, including this reviewer. True, the CGI is a little patchy at parts, but on the whole, Lam has proven with his trilogy of movies that Chinese productions are more than capable of keeping pace with their Hollywood counterparts.

Eddie Peng stars as winchman Gao Qian in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)
Eddie Peng stars as winchman Gao Qian in "The Rescue". (Photo: China Modern Film and Television Development)

The problem is when a disaster thriller like this tries to inject the ever-important human factor into this. Gao Qian and his colleagues are little more than wells of tiring inspirational cliches and tropes, and the plot segues awkwardly into melodrama when it becomes clear that all is not well with Cong Cong.

Peng is one of the strongest leading men in the Chinese-speaking market now, but he’s given little to do other than one of three things: look determined, concerned, or valiantly trying to cover up any despair his character feels. This is more the fault of the script rather than with Peng himself, who has clearly put in a lot of effort at the gym in order to play Gao Qian convincingly. Xin Zhilei is also very one-note as Fan Yuling, and comes across as a bit of a boring blank canvas.

All of this results in a lack of engagement between the actors and their audience, and while the viewer does care about the characters onscreen in a very primal “oh no please don’t die a horrible death” way, it doesn’t go much deeper than that. Still, as a popcorn thriller it does what it says on the tin, and is a pretty safe bet for the whole family to watch together if you find yourself with free time.