Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"If you thought building a theme park full of live dinosaurs was a bad idea, wait until you see this theme park built around an active volcano."

Li Meng (Hannah Quinlivan) has a thing about eruptions. One killed her mother - as we see in the prologue here - and she has devoted her life to preventing further such horrors, developing new technology to predict them and even going inside a crater to position the censors that will make it work. Her father (Wang Xueqi), having already lost one loved one, wants her to stop, which has created a rift between them - but a bigger problem is ambitious developer Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs), who just doesn't take the danger seriously. If you thought building a theme park full of live dinosaurs was a bad idea, wait until you see this theme park built around an active volcano.

To be fair, Kilauea tourism has been popular for decades, but that's a rather different proposition. Whereas the Hawaiian volcano smoulders away in a consistent manner, with multiple outlets for pressure, Harris' choice is a classic cone complete with a crater full of bubbling lava and a nervous temperament. Nevertheless, tourists flock there to ride the monorail that carries them down into the crater. Of course they do. Volcanoes are cool. If you didn't think so, why would you be watching this film?

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Of course, everything that could go wrong does in a non-stop rollercoaster ride which packs in more disasters than 2012. Though it's not one for viewers who struggle to suspend disbelief, or who place a high value on originality, it's full of entertaining escapades and is played out in a po-faced style that makes its inherent silliness all the more amusing. Trying to please both Chinese and Western audiences, it mixes together elements popular with each, so you can watch a sentimental marriage proposal conducted underwater and a motorcyclist jumping away from a petrol explosion in one place. The central moral failing of overlooking health and safety in order to make money is something that used to be a feature of US disaster movies during their Seventies heyday but fell out of favour after Gordon Gecko proclaimed (however ironically) that greed is good, but it's a big deal to Chinese viewers. Still, there's a concession to Western values as even the bad guy gets a shot at redemption.

There's little real characterisation here but Quinlivan makes a decent action heroine, handling the physical stuff well, and keeping the relationships between the characters simple means there's more time to focus on reversing an off-roader away from lava, leaping between speeding monorail cars, dodging fireballs and, you know, the stuff that matters. At one point we even see a man threatened by lava pull his coat over his head as if taking South Park's advice to duck and cover. The CGI is inconsistent and sometimes lets the film down badly but overall the standard is fairly good, and there's a trip behind the scenes during the closing credits so you can see how some of the physical effects were put together.

"I've seen what happens to a person when a volcano explodes," says Meng ominously when the theme park is opening up. Later dialogue is of a similar quality and either intolerable or delightful, depending on one's tastes. Some English speakers have complained about being unable to follow both the subtitles and the action, but if that's a problem for you, you really don't need the dialogue to follow what's going on. Just sit back, relax, and watch things explode.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2021
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A volcanic eruption threatens the inhabitants of a small island.
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Director: Simon West

Writer: Wei Bu, Sidney King

Starring: Xueqi Wang, Hannah Quinlivan, Shawn Dou

Year: 2019

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: China


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