The Rescue **
Dir: Dante Lam. With: Eddie Peng, Yanlin Wang, Zhilei Xin, Lyric Lan. 139 mins. Cert: 15
Detective Chinatown 3’s rival for the attentions of the Chinese Lunar New Year crowd is this goofy event movie, a frenetic, finally exhausting mix of soap and spectacle. It’s overseen by Dante Lam, a sometime cult director (1998’s Beast Cops) continuing the transition into commercial respectability he began with 2018’s state-sanctioned seatfiller Operation Red Sea.
The pitch was presumably Top Gun with air rescue workers: heroic winchman Gao (Eddie Peng) is introduced swinging through a collapsing oil rig, and winds up in fraught navigation of a stricken ship. Yet once back on dry land Lam proves just as preoccupied by Gao’s curly-haired moppet Congcong (Zhang Jingyi) and his progress through toilet training.
The new Chinese cinema looks to have taken as its model those Indian masala movies (themselves gaining a foothold in these waters) which mash up multiple genres with an eye to boosting box-office returns. Here, it generates a mixed bag to be dipped in and out of, and discarded on the cinema floor once you’ve had your fill.
Some of it is undeniably tasty: the precision stunt ‘coptering that sees hotshot ladypilot Fan (Zhilei Xin) loose keys from a hook, the professional water tank work as Gao swims through and around that ship. Its complex VFX only sporadically convince as reproductions of tactile reality, however, and the pressure to make this most auspicious of release dates equally manifests in the haphazardness of the female lead’s lipliner in one scene.
Amid the rushing around, any substantial or sustained jeopardy is trampled underfoot. As one setpiece after another is successfully negotiated, you can’t fail to notice how the fate of the passengers in a plummeting jetliner is afforded less narrative weight than little Congcong’s struggles to poop properly, doubly so after the shameless midfilm development that sees the poor tyke starting to lose his sight.
The result is as long and as lavish an advert as has ever been produced for the Chinese emergency services, reassuring us we’d be in the hands of the most upstanding folks if ever our tankers get toppled by rockfall into fast-running rivers. It’s just you might reasonably want your art a little more stirring and challenging, and not quite so obviously rubberstamped.
The Rescue had its international release postponed on Friday due to the Coronavirus outbreak; it will now open later this year.