With Asian and Western markets starting to combine funding for mutli-regional big budget movies, we’ve seen a spree of big budget multi-lingual disaster movies. Off the back of Skyscraper and featuring Hannah Quinlivan as a bad ass again, Skyfire is a brains off riot. Packed with stunts, effects and plenty of absurd situations, I was entertained from start to finish.
The Disasters Faced
An erupting volcano, extreme steam, lava flows, pyroclastic clouds, a hotel manager who thinks he can tam nature, burning bridges, underwater caves and the best cable car ride gone wrong committed to film.
Tianhuo Island is absolutely beautiful. It also happens to sit in the Pacific Rim volcanic belt which means lots of crazy eruptions and danger aplenty. The movie opens with a huge eruption whilst parent geologists Sue and Wentao are on the island with daughter Meng. In the chaotic evacuation Sue is killed infront of Wentao. Meng, driven to never want another mother killed by a volcano decides to study in her footsteps, much to the worry of her father.
Flashforward 15 years and Meng is now a bad ass geologist with giant fire suits and commanding research on the seemingly grumbly volcano. Alongside her is tech and drone geek Bo, teammate Lei and Professor Jiang. With the notoriety of the volcano has come investors though. Jack Harris and wife Qianwei Wang have opened a giant volcano tourist hotel. Just as nuts the fabulous When Time Ran Out – apparently hotel lava is a great place to be. It also includes a huge cable car complex that rides you around the volcano and takes you into a viewing table… inside the actual mouth of it! Guess where all the latest investors want to visit? Qianwei leads a group there whilst Jack stays at the hotel to look after business.
When viewing promotional material on the volcano Wentao notices a bulge and change of topography compared to his old research and fears for the worst. He flies into Tianhuo to pull Meng out of there but she isn’t going to listen. She thinks the volcano is waking up and wants to warn everyone. Jack doesn’t listen, despite Meng’s pleas. Wentao joins Meng and the gang up on the volcano for some experiments but all they do is arrive in time to get caught up in the big eruption!
As the volcano erupts, killing Professor Jiang outright, Meng, Lei and Wentao head to the observation deck to help Qianwei save as many tourists as they can before the whole thing falls apart. Then its a dash to the cable cars and a high speed escape but not before one of the best ‘bonk your dead’ exits from a disaster movie I’ve seen for a while. A lava bomb causes the cable car with our Meng, Wentao and Qianwei in to fly off its rails and down a slope – coming to rest right in front of our other two leads.
Zhengnan had just been asking Jiahui to marry him in what looked like an underwater mermaid scene. I think she said yes? Sadly their little love cave quickly became a lava pit and so they had to break all hold-your-breath records to swim and escape the chaos. Once in their offroad vehicle, they head for the local village where Jiahui lives to save her family. That is until a giant cable car lands infront of them. Now a team of five, with Bo providing eyes in the air at basecamp via drones, the idea isn’t just to save Grandpa – its to save the whole town and the hotel.
The plan involves getting to a local dam and activating some release valves to pour so much water onto the lava that it changes direction. This will buy the escapees time and so the five set off across all kinds of crazy stunts and situations to make it to the dam site. Meanwhile, Jack – still at the hotel – is being pummelled with lava bombs and the whole thing is on fire.
With a pyroclastic cloud imminent, Bo manages to arrange a helicopter rescue but everyone needs to be at the correct shore point. This means crossing lava flows, burning bridges, barrel rolling their truck and all kinds of ragdoll stunts. Will they make it in time?
Why is it worth watching?
Skyfall bends itself backwards to entertain you. It is so over the top but also knows it too – like a 90’s action movie. If you know that going in, you’ll have a great time so long as you disengage any thoughts and let the mood take you. It was directed by the of Tomb Raider and Expendables 2. Need I say more? I saw a review that said ‘This is Jurassic World without the dinosaurs’ and I can see where they were coming from but they are missing the point.
There is a lot of big budget CGI here and its done in an Asian fashion, which has a different colour palette and style to western CGI. Asia loves cloud and particle effects and are the masters of them. They give so much detail and art to the flow of elements, it is quite mesmerising. The flipside is that Asia doesn’t usually do green screen in quite the same way. Often CGI is more colourful than the muted greys and realistic muddy tones of western CGI. It may jar western audiences but my eyes are used to this now – Asia prefers their characters to pop out a little on screen. As so much of the movie is special effects driven – I thought it’d be worth shouting this one up front.
Character and story wise, there are clichés aplenty. Strained father/daughter relationships. Young love under fire. Grandpa waiting for everyone to gather around before a death monologue. A wagging finger at corporate greed and the problems of not being cautious ripple throughout. One of the interesting concepts here is that Qianwei is with the very people who were telling her partner Jack that they should have evacuated earlier and she’s seeing all the devastation of their ways unfold. She doesn’t seem a ‘bad’ person but they made bad decisions. In the same way that the volcano isn’t a bad thing – its doesn’t intend on killing. It creates and destroys and this point is referred to over again throughout the movie. Jack, the closest the movie has to a villain, spends most of the movie separate from the rest of the cast. There is a great moment when he is watching his CCTV screens and sees what he thinks is everyone getting killed in the volcano. It is a great reminder of the help and hinderance of tech.
Chinese drama loves visual imagery and slow motion romance. This does mean that Skyfire takes some huge cinematic licences. Just how long are Zhengnan and Jiahui underwater for?! I swear its several minutes. It looks lovely but still. Similarly, the cast are thrown about like ragdolls with no injuries whatsoever. They win the award for most resilient cast of a disaster movie as a collective.
Although I’ve mentioned the colour grading in green screen earlier, the amount of special effects included in this film is massive. The burning sets of the hotel and village which contain real fires and explosions look superb. The volcano itself has so many parts to its eruption, each time you see it, the look and feel of the danger is different. That’s because its all happening in day, full of colour and life. Often movies take the easy route of a dark night for example to lessen the CGI load but not here. Also – hats off for using fast lava too.
Whilst the characters themselves all come across as pleasant and largely likeable, I want to make a special mention for Meng. As our lead, Hannah Quinlivan seems to perform her own stunts and she is hanging out of cars, off cliffs, swinging on ropes and being thrown everywhere. The fact a lot of these characters are thrown about and you see them in slow motion getting air time is quite entertaining… even if its unbelievable. Well done to all involved. It is also one of the best examples of bilingual casts in a disaster movie not feeling jarring. Often one language or the other feels a little stilted but here conversations work fluidly and naturally – at least from the English side of things anyway!
We’re standing on what may be the safest place on Earth.Quanlei as she walks into an elevator to descend down the mouth of a volcano. girl no!
Three memorable moments
- The cable car ride both in and out of the volcano for every different reasons.
- Getting stuck in the lava flow and hanging off the edge of a cliff in a truck.
- Several very subtle nods to When Time Ran Out which seems an inspiration.
The obligatory weird moment
The fact that a hotel resort around a volcano is not even a made up idea. Whakaari had an eruption on an island when tourists were wandering around the rim of it all, killing 22. I would enjoy hotel wars though between this one and When Time Ran Out to see which one would burn down quickest.
The drinking game
Every time a cast member does something that would shatter multiple bones in their body and they immediately get up and keep going. These characters are bouncy!
Ridiculous, over the top and crammed full of unlikely stunts. It knows its an action film and just wants you to be entertained for an hour and half. By embracing its energy and refusing to slow down, I thoroughly enjoyed Skyfire. If When Time Ran Out was made with a big budget and the heart of an early 90’s cop duo action flick – this is what you’d get. Mindless greatness.
Rating: 4 / 5 – Excellent
If you enjoyed Skyfire, then you may like…
- When Time Ran Out – Irwin Allen’s so-bad-its-good original that this seems heavily influenced by.
- The Tower – Korea’s answer to The Towering Inferno. One of my all time favourites.
- Dante’s Peak – A bit more sentimental and slower burning but equally as good.
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