Following a string of mediocre-to-disappointing efforts such as 2010’s Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen <夜行俠陳真> and this year’s Kung Fu Monster <武林怪兽>, Andrew Lau’s once-lauded directing prowess is increasingly diminishing as years go by.
But thankfully, his latest movie in The Captain <中国机长> marks Lau’s most entertaining directorial effort in over a decade. Inspired by a remarkable true story of the Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8633 occurred on May 14, 2018, the movie follows the titular captain Liu Chuanjian (Zhang Hanyu) and his crew members aboard the aforementioned flight carrying 119 passengers from Chongqing to Lhasa.
However, just 40 minutes after take-off at 30,000 feet, the plane’s cockpit windshield shattered all of the sudden, causing one of the co-pilots (Oho Ou) to be sucked halfway out. With the plane losing cabin pressure and radio communication, Captain Liu and the rest of his crew members trying their best to defy against all odds to fly the plane safely to the nearest airport.
Movies surrounding airplane disasters are actually nothing new, at least for Hollywood productions anyway with the likes of Airport (1970), Flight (2012) and Sully (2016). And if you are familiar enough with such genre, The Captain <中国机长> basically follows the same template as Andrew Lau and his screenwriter Yu Yonggan — who also responsible for writing The Bravest <烈火英雄> — filled every known cliché throughout its nearly two-hour length.
And yet, Lau’s assured direction manages to offset the movie’s clichéd-ridden materials by keeping the pace taut for the bulk of its time. He also made the smart choice not to succumb too much into the melodramatic territory commonly plagued in such like-minded movies (The Bravest <烈火英雄> is one of them) and even reducing subplots into a bare minimum. Another notable aspect is Lau’s wise inclusion of detailing interesting airline procedurals ranging from both pre-flight internal & external checks to crisis controls in an event of a problematic flight situation.
Instead, he focuses mostly on Captain Liu and his crew members’ painstaking efforts to remain calm under pressure while dealing with panicked passengers as they try to bring the plane under control. This leads to a few suspenseful moments, coupled with thrillingly-staged setpieces benefitted from the additional input of surprisingly better-than-expected CG effects.
It also helps that the overall performances deliver mostly decent performances, with Lau making good use of Zhang Hanyu’s typically stoic presence as the selfless and no-nonsense titular captain of the Sichuan Airlines flight. But I’m particularly admired Yuan Quan the most, who steals the show with her solid yet award-worthy supporting turn as the level-headed inflight service manager Bi Nan.
While The Captain <中国机长> works in most levels, it’s kind of a pity that Lau has to adhere to the Chinese censors with an obligatory nationalistic moment. This is particularly evident during the unnecessarily-padded epilogue scene, complete with Captain Liu awkwardly singing a patriotic song with his fellow crew members at the end of the movie.