The Rescue is the capper of what can be considered a thematic trilogy for Chinese director Dante Lam, following up Operation Mekong and Operation Red Sea, all fictionalised showcases for the men and women who make the public service personnel of the country. Mekong featured the police force, Red Sea had the Navy, and now Rescue shows members of the China Rescue and Salvage arm of the Ministry Of Transportation. It’s a great big blockbuster feature, but what makes this truly remarkable isn’t what it gets right. Rather, it’s what it gets right that rationally should not work in the first place.
This film looks amazing, to the point where it ends up showing up the Hollywood standard at its own bombastic game. The visual effects work courtesy of Digital Domain and Scanline VFX, who regularly work on Marvel efforts, hit a nice stylistic balance which makes clear why they’re going with CGI to begin with, but without its use being too conspicuous and/or distracting. From the opening oil rig rescue to the nail-biting finale, it all bursts onto the screen. To say nothing of the mind-blowing cinematography from Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Forbidden Kingdom), who utilises multiple points-of-view and incredibly fluid movement to keep every moment engaging. Even on the rescuers’ down time.
Because all work and no play makes for dull cliché, we end up following these heroes in their personal lives as well, primarily Eddie Peng’s Gao Qian, and it’s here where the perplexing part comes in. Going from the intense action scenes to Gao’s son playing romantic matchmaker (that’s a trope that really should have been left in the ‘90s) is the kind of tonal whiplash that usually comes from Bollywood productions, and the effect is about the same.
Hell, the more comedic and even emotional scenes not involving life-saving are so unashamedly goofy, that whiplash can feel all too literal at times. No doubt, the cheesy Western localisation doesn’t help, as kung-fu-style dubbing may be sensible given the visual energy, but still gives this an almost-lotiony sheen.
And yet, even those moments still work. It may feel like being pulled from one emotional reaction to another by the ankles, but it results in a solid hit every time, whether it’s the gut punch from the more tear-jerking moments or just the cheesy grinning at how precious things can get, particularly between Gao and his son. Between the humour and the emergency workers as superheroes, this is basically Playing With Fire done right.
The production values let the caped moments shine like wildfires, and the humanity of their civilian identities may be silly (okay, definitely silly), but it’s a likeable kind of silly. The kind that only works in the realm of blockbuster cinema, where the need to please crowds in droves overrides any semblance of self-awareness and just lets movies be fun. And for the rest of 2020, this is where the ‘fun’ benchmark will sit.