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Review: SKYFIRE (2020)

As the Chinese film industry starts to stretch beyond epic propaganda pieces like The Wandering Earth and Operation Red Sea, we’re starting to see more films aimed at an international audience as well as the domestic one. Films like Crocodile Island can be subtitled or dubbed and play anywhere. Now we have Skyfire (天火), an old-school disaster movie helmed by Englishman Simon West (Con Air, The Expendables 2).

Tianhuo is a volcanic island off the Chinese coast. Twenty years ago a freak eruption killed Li Wentao’s (Wang Xueqi, Iron Man 3, Reign of Assassins) wife while he watched helplessly, trapped in his wrecked truck. Now, twenty years later, told by experts that the volcano will stay dormant for 150 years, an Australian businessman Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs, Castlevania, Occupation: Rainfall) has turned the island into a theme park and resort. One of the scientists monitoring the volcano is Li Xiaomeng (Hannah Quinlivan, Skyscraper), Wentao’s daughter. He is not happy about this.

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As data comes in suggesting the volcano will erupt well ahead of schedule, Wentao returns to Tianhuo to convince Xiaomeng to leave. She confronts Harris, who brushes her off. What nobody knows is he’s on the verge of bankruptcy and the resort is his last hope to save his empire. As he pitches investors, father, daughter and team leader Jiang (Shi Liang) head out to the crater rim for research. And that’s when everything goes to hell.

Skyfire certainly wastes no time getting started. Within seconds of the opening credits, we’re in the midst of the eruption that killed Xiaomeng’s mother. And it’s very well done with some state of the art CGI. And that is where the film shines, the scenes of destruction. West certainly knows a thing or two about blowing things up. Even if the cause is usually Jason Statham and a bunch of big guys with big guns, rather than Mother Nature with PMS.

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The problem with Skyfire is, not surprisingly, the script. Writers Wei Bu and Sidney King have put together a collection of characters and situations that don’t just echo SyFy films or Dante’s Peak but go all the way back to the films of Irwin Allen who originally popularized disaster films in the 70s and 80s. When Time Ran Out, one of the last films he produced in particular.

We have the estranged father/daughter and the businessman who puts profits ahead of lives. Skyfire also gives us the couple who have just gotten engaged, Zhengnan (Dou Xiao) and Dong Jiahui (An Bai). The young child separated from her mother and the geek, Bo Teng (Lingchen Ji) who has to become a hero.

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Thankfully, they also threw in plenty of insane set pieces for West to put his talents to work on. An underwater escape and a scene involving people jumping between speeding monorail cars are standouts. Skyfire also features some excellent stunt work during the scenes of the hotel guests trying to escape by sea. Every time you notice how familiar the situation is, there’s something to make you forget it again.

Some of these scenes are let down by, of all things, poor green screen work. It’s really surprising to see it become an issue rather than the CGI. Granted, that has a few weak spots too, but overall Skyfire is very solid.

For all its faults, though, Skyfire is an enjoyably brain dead film. It’s big, dumb, noisy and a perfect way to kill some time.

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