Thailand’s first entry in the disaster movie genre came in 2009 with Death Wave, originally titled 2022 Tsunami. It is confusingly put together with plot strands and characters that arrive and disappear randomly. Using that backdrop of the 2004 Tsunami gives it some emotional weight though even if its final result misses the mark.
The disasters faced
Confused acting, political intrigue, scream-inducing flashbacks, tidal waves, big statues and a race against time to save the CGI dolphin!
Deathwave follows in very broad strokes the formula introduced in The Day After Tomorrow. Climate change is happening, mostly off camera, and scientists have been busy making predictions of tsunamis. The Prime Minister (quite rightly in the wake of 2004) has made three evacuations based on false alarms and whilst he is happy to do it again, his coalition Government think he is foolhardy. Whilst that political jostling entertains, Dr Siam and his team including Cindy, PhiPhi and Phuket (yes, it is like the Thai version of a French person calling their daughter Paris) are conducting research to support the Prime Minister. Between diving in an underwater lab and sailing their giant ship, Cindy and PhiPhi will also be organising environmental protests.
This plays into the very heavy-handed environmental messages Deathwave intends to tell you. Whilst the protests go on in that story, Chartrat the coalition ministers son, is busy buying casinos and turning the coastline into a tourist destination and drug den. This goes against Rawil, Batu and Pepe who live on the beach and have a spiritual, of the land way of life. It is an interesting discussion point to highlight Thailand’s pursuit of technology and Western world progress and the second act deals with this. Should Thailand embrace industry or should it be warier?
All this culminates in the finale tsunami triggered by multiple volcanoes erupting simultaneously following an earthquake. The scientists are hit by the wave and fight for survival. The Prime Minister is busy helping a school bus of children on a bridge as it turns out he also does air rescue too. Will the rich socialites survive and will the beach people escape into the sea and out of the path of the wave in time?
Why it is worth watching
Aside from it being Thailand’s first entry into the disaster foray, the last twenty minutes where the wave hits entertain with its craziness. There is clearly a lot of decent set destruction although it must be said the camera work makes it difficult to see the scale of it all.
Deathwave is also heavily environmentalist. The film ends with a text quote from the director pleading for us to look after the planet and each other. A lot of the messages are clumsy because they are delivered as pleas. One message I did like was when other countries are being hit and Prime Minister reminds everyone nature cares not about geography and no one is immune to her reach. I feel like that message is lost on todays politicians. By extension, this film does the same by placing valour, kindness and science at the forefront of all the good characters. Greed characterises all the baddies – be that for power, money or resources. Deathwave paints everything in a very black and white fashion but the one part where it does pause for thought is around its urbanisation and tourist expansion.
It is a shame then that the story itself is an utter mess that crams too many characters and storylines into 90 minutes. I feel like I’ve watched an abridged version of the film but I cannot find a longer version of it elsewhere. A gay couple appear for two scenes as if we know them already and then drown in an expensive looking scene. Other characters just vanish post-tsunami never to be referenced again even though we’ve experienced a story with them for the first hour. Then we have an entire dramatic chase scene to save a CGI dolphin. Cindy is screaming its name like she has lost her child but no. Between that and the monkey, the animals have a lot to answer for.
Perhaps its less about the run time but more about where that runtime is placed. So much of the plot goes nowhere for half the cast, if that was redirected back to some of our main characters, maybe it would be a tighter film.
Not only is the structure and pacing off, but the script is also more wooden than Jake the Peg’s extra leg. Maybe the Thai language is more poetic than the subtitles relay to us because the scientists discuss how the world around them is falling apart over coffee without any urgency. It just flows poorly and I don’t feel like its the cast that’s at fault. They cry, scream and splash around as good as most casts and the arguments between the two Ministers are superb.
The last thing I want to mention here is the camera work. Deathwave opts far too often for amateur shaky cam. I can live with that but here they mix it up with constant zooming in and out of peoples faces. Quite often you can’t actually tell truly what is going on. Shaky cam can cover up some sloppy and cheap CGI but when its used on some of the lavish water sections is really detracts from the film.
The effects range in extremes. The floodest sets are fantastic when you can see them through the shaky camera but the CGI is sometimes really awful. The worst offenders are the dolphin (why oh why) and CGI smoke which is actually just big black blobs! The actual wave itself isn’t so bad thankfully and there’s some good work done there. It’s interesting however that the film uses stock footage from 2004 for character flashbacks to the real tsunami. I’m sure it could spark a debate on whether or not its too soon.
Another I wanted to raise is Deathwave’s colour palette. There are scenes, often when greenscreen is being used, when the film is almost completely washed out of colour. It’s like they filmed at night and tried to colour correct it back into the day again. Then you’ll get one scene of bright colour then back to grey again. It is really noticeable and not in a good way.
Deathwave goes out of its way to make the Prime Minister a superb character. It is so refreshing to have someone in power that makes a firm decision and sticks to it. Then he gets in a helicopter to go and rescue people. Everyone salute that man! Elsewhere Cindy makes for a great female protagonist but is sidelined to splashing around in the final act, as are all the scientists really. Phuket is a strange character whose flashbacks to the 2004 tsunami are never really addressed for story resolution. They just make him cry. He does have a good monkey though! Elsewhere the Minister is superb with his evil tie-flicking ways and Dr Siam has an amazing beard. If he was nearby and I was being swept away, I may have made a grab for it for safety.
‘We’re all from the same planet you know!’
Three memorable moments
- Cindy goes to save a CGI dolphin for goodness sake!
- The Prime Minister washing up on top of something very golden
- The final Deathwave itself
The obligatory weird moment…
It took a lot to not put a dolphin, monkey or elephant here. However, most random moment award goes to Dr Siam whom from nowhere goes vigilante and electro-stuns his assistant so he can go down to the underwater lab without her. Where did this magical device appear from!? TAlso during this move, he is in a wet suit and you can see full body length tattoos. I need this backstory. Is Dr Siam an ancient warrior?
The drinking game
Every cry for a change to the planet. That is not a bad thing at all, but the lack of subtly makes it a good game to drink to.
Rushed, full of plot holes and like a good half hour of the film is missing – Deathwave is not an easy sell. Diehard genre fans will find plenty to enjoy here but Thailand’s first disaster movie with a huge (for Thailand) $4 million budget is far from a blockbuster masterpiece. It is a confused but well-meaning mess that will likely entertain you for the wrong reasons.
Rating – 2/5 Poor
If you liked Deathwave then you may like…
- The Dam / Dam 999 – Indian/Singaporean disaster movie about a dam breaking
- Haeundae – superior Korean tidal wave movie with a huge budget and lots of crying
- Sinking of Japan – Does everything this film talks about but on screen
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*This review was updated to the new format on 07/07/19.