February 5, 2023
$19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray;
Stars Yilong Zhu, Zhizhong Huang, Shu Chen.
Confession is good for the soul. I take no guilt in the pleasure derived from disaster films. The genre has been with us almost since the dawn of cinema: Released in 1901, a hook and ladder races to snuff the titular blaze in Scottish cameraman-turned-director James Williamson’s British short Fire! In my youth, Ma always taught me there’s no such thing as a bad genre. Over the years disaster films have yielded more than their fair share of masterfully mounted divertissements: King Kong, Things to Come, The Birds, Juggernaut, Deepwater Horizon, Sully and Woody Allen’s giant rampaging teat all survive numerous viewings. The genre came into its own in the early ’70s when producer Irwin Allen swapped hits with Universal’s quartet of airborne soap operas, all of which contained the word “Airport” in their titles. (I generally tend to like my disasters natural as opposed to man-made.) What defines a disaster movie? Mindless mayhem, rampant destruction, and a cast of Hollywood all-stars, many of whom succumb to death by billing, whose headshots run in a horizontal strip across the bottom quarter of the poster.
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Topography underlain by crumbling limestone poses an imminent threat to a small town in China’s southwest region in director Li Jun’s 2021 effort, Cloudy Mountain. The magnitude of the earthquake that opens the show is not high, but there’s a chance it could result in a landslide, bringing down a mountain and endangering a soon-to-be-completed bridge and tunnel 10 years in the making. The CGI must look convincing even when the emotions and characterizations that surround them are anything but. The effects and stunt work solarize an otherwise murky string of woebegone narrative contrivance. With its unstable ground and steep rock formations, a patron blindfolded and seated in another auditorium can surmise this is not an ideal location to build a high-speed railway. A decade later, and a month before its grand opening, the project is about to have its foundation rocked. Melodrama happens when Hong Yizhou (Yilong Zhu), a guilt-racked son certain he was responsible for his mother’s drowning, and a father, Hong Yunbing (Zhizhong Huang), currently paying the price of placing career over family.
Yunbing, a retired soldier steeped in the art of survival, is set to spend the New Year’s holiday with his estranged son. The decision was motivated by what Yizhou construes as a chance for dad to get back in the action all the while poking his nose in his boy’s business. The flight is set to arrive at 1:30. No sooner does dad set foot on Chinese soil than the city — and a good deal of its soffit fascia — begins to quake, rattle and rock. What follows is an endless stream of cliffhangers, spelunkers, pre-pubescent stowaways, pointless time-stamps designed to add a facade of genuineness, gritted teeth, and indifferent exchanges, all of which conspire to provide a steady stream of unintentional chortles.
The government evacuates the town just in time for another storm, this one promising to be even more destructive than its predecessor. The only way to save humanity as they know it is to blow up the tunnel. Yunbing is a live-action Popeye, stopping at any moment in the proceedings to save wimmin and childrinks. There are sizable set pieces along the way, notably a busload of civilians swallowed up by the earth and in need of saving — but the action tapers as the relationship drama rises to the top,