Director Han Jae-Rim Honors Acts Of Bravery In ‘Emergency Declaration’

Disaster films are very interesting, said Han Jae-rim, director of the Korean box office hit Emergency Declaration, because such films have a lot to say about the way people act when they are placed in extreme situations. “This is something we can’t get in our daily lives.”

That was his thinking when he first planned the film about a plane full of passengers exposed to a deadly virus. He now considers it “extremely ironic” that the release of his film about a fictional pandemic was repeatedly delayed by the real-life COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency Declaration was shown at Cannes in July 2021. Yet, the film, starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan and Kim So-jin, was not released in Korea until August 3 and the US on August 12.

Emergency Declaration was planned 10 years before COVID,” said Han. “The pandemic was an unexpected shock to us all. In planning the film, we thought that the theme of a virus and a vaccine would be new to the audience and had to study it ourselves. However, the risk of a global pandemic became reality just two to three years before the film’s release and suddenly the public became more knowledgeable than the film. I was heartbroken at the sudden pandemic and wanted to bring the film to the audience as fast as possible, but inevitably had to consider many aspects before the release.”

In the film some airline passengers—as well as those trying to help them from the ground—act in a heroic manner. Others act solely in self interest.

“I was taken by surprise at how the scenario actualized in real life,” said Han. “With the outbreak of COVID, many of the adversities I had written about, such as protests against foreign imports actually took place in China’s Wuhan, as well as in many other parts of the world. I believe that these unfortunate events happened due to our fear of the unknown. On the other hand, we were also able to witness acts of selflessness and affinity, which I believe is what makes us human.”

Emergency Declaration is probably not the best film to watch while flying on an actual plane, but theatergoers loved it. The film has so far achieved ticket sales of about $15 million worldwide. During his successful career, Han has worked in various genres, having directed the gangster flick The Show Must Go On, the political crime drama The King, and a period drama The Face Reader. Each genre has its challenges, and in directing Emergency Declaration, Han said the challenge was creating and maintaining suspense. The film’s suspense begins to build when an emotionally disturbed researcher, Ryu Jin-seok, played menacingly by Yim, decides to kill a plane full of random people with a virus.

“The first appearance of Ryu Jin-seok in this film symbolizes the first appearance of the disaster,” said Han. “From then, every moment of the disaster was important for maintaining the suspense.”

The tension builds as Jin-seok boards the plane and releases the virus. His plan is discovered, but it’s too late. The virus quickly spreads. The plane needs to land, but more than one nation refuses them entry.

Kim Nam-gil plays the plane’s pilot. He holds a grudge against one of the passengers, a former pilot played by Lee Byung-hun. On the ground, a detective, played by Song Kang-ho, whose wife is a passenger, attempts to discover what the virus is and how to help the passengers land safely. The film’s tension culminates as the passengers and those watching below begin to realize the likely outcome of the plane’s predicament. Yet none of the film’s heroes are ready to give up.

Han did not have particular actors in mind when he wrote the screenplay yet managed to cast the perfect actor for the role of In-ho, the dogged self-sacrificing detective.

“In the subsequent process of casting the actors for each role, I did think that the portrayal of In-ho’s character, who is illustrated as both a husband and father, would be vital to the plot. In-ho can be misinterpreted as a flat character, when in fact he is very multi-dimensional. Song Kang-ho first came to mind for the role of In-ho because I was confident that he would be able to catch such subtleties.”

Song, an actor known for his nuanced performances, previously worked with Han on The Show Must Go On, playing a gangster, and on The Face Reader, playing a practitioner of physiognomy.

“As for Lee Byung-hun, I had not worked with him in the past, but always wanted to,” said Han. “In formulating Jae-hyuk’s character, I naturally thought it would be great if we could cast Lee Byung-hun for the role. Luckily, my hopes came true. Furthermore, I am very thankful to have been given the opportunity to work with such talented and renowned actors as Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan and Kim So-jin.”

While fear makes some characters behave badly, it also creates heroes. Han saw his film as a way to showcase ordinary acts of bravery.

Emergency Declaration, as is the case with most disaster films, focuses more on how individuals faced with a disaster strive to overcome the situation than on the disaster itself,” said Han. “Likewise, rather than focus on one particular character, I wanted to emphasize how ordinary people are able to triumph over their fears and do the most they can in their own roles, because I believe that this is the key to defeating any potential future disasters.”

He wanted characters such as the co-pilot and the head flight attendant to display such traits.

“There are always those who show even more endurance than others and I believe in my film, that role is the head flight attendant, Hee-jin,” he said. “Hee-jin puts her own fears aside and dedicates herself to helping the passengers. In the end, Jae-hyuk, In-ho and all the passengers illustrate how ordinary people are able to show ordinary acts of bravery. It is not a great moral cause that moves them, but a simple work ethic or love towards one’s family enables them to take a step forward. Don’t you think these simple acts of humanity and courage are what allow us to overcome disaster?”

Emergency Declaration is distributed in the US by Well Go USA.