Saturday, January 18, 2020

Ashfall / 백두산 - Movie Review

The Movie: Ashfall / 백두산

The Director: Lee Hae-jun, Kim Byung-seo

The Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Ha Jung-woo, Ma Dong-seok, Suzy aka Bae Su-ji, Jeon Hye-jin

The Story: Stagnant since 1903, at an elevation of 2,744 m, a volcano erupts on the mythical and majestic Baekdu Mountain.

The Review:
Packed with a star studded cast and an epic scale disaster story, I just knew this movie was going to be an explosive display of dramatic excesses. The style of film making is comparable to stuff like Armageddon which, if you didn't already know, is one of my all time favorite indulgences when it comes to cinema. The stakes are high and a team of unlikely heroes is assembled to save the day with drama, comedy, intrigue, and political dealings all thrown into the mix to create a fun, exciting, and emotional movie going experience.

The two stars of the film, Lee Byung-hun and Ha Jung-woo, play off of each other really well and make a very believable transition from adversaries to partners as the story progresses. While each of them show why they have been at the top of Korean cinema and TV for years with star powered performances, they also each provide a serious emotional punch to the story which had me wiping away a few tears by the time their stories came to a close. Korean films, even big action blockbusters like this, are always so good at hitting those emotional buttons and this movie is definitely no exception.

Suzy, who has dominated Korean pop culture as a singer, TV star, and movie star plays Ha Jung-woo's pregnant wife in the movie and I can see why she has been such an adored personality over the years. She is super likable and has all the star power you could ever want. She doesn't get a ton of screen time unfortunately and takes advantage of every single moments. It's actually quite impressive how good of a cast this is as each person is a very distinct personality and could be the star of a movie or TV show all by themselves. Actually they all have, so there you go.

When it comes to blockbuster films, few people have a name or presence more recognizable or commanding than Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee. He is most known for his characters using their fists to solve just about any problem that gets in his way so it was interesting to see him play the brains of the operation tasked with coming up with a scientific solution to their explosively volcanic problem. It was also fun to see him paired up with Jeon Hye-jin, another of Korea's most high profile and respected movie stars, as she recruits Lee's character and assists him throughout the operation even finding ways to circumvent political and military obstacles to help get the job done.

Even with all of the character drama, political intrigue, and high tech problem solving, this movie has plenty of action to go around, especially when Baekdu Mountain is spewing lava everywhere and causing earthquakes that rock the entire peninsula. During these turbulent and intensely chaotic moments, I was reminded of all the earth shattering antics and narrow escapes that played out in 2012 with bridges collapsing, buildings falling apart, and molten lava bombs crashing all around. Sure this movie isn't nearly as epic in scale as 2012, or even Armageddon for that matter, it still manages to hold its own while playing in that cinematic arena.

The Verdict:
Ashfall is exactly what I was looking for and hoping for in a Korean action, disaster spectacle. The stakes are high, the action is intense, and the star power is A list across the board. Go see this movie as soon as you can. In American theaters the movie is subtitled for your convenience and enjoyment.

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