Year: 2019
Production Co: Meridian Entertainment
Director: Simon West
Writer: Wei Bu/Sidney King
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Hannah Quinlivan

The very model of a Chinese effort to emulate the glitz and success it covets jealously about Hollywood.

There's a face famous enough to sell to international audiences, young, attractive heroes who have obvious Asian heritage but all have that hint of Western-ness that's so fashionable in Asia (and thus aspirational for the local audience), a high concept premise, tons of CGI destruction and an American director who's not too A list (read; expensive) but has the chops to pull it off.

Quite apart from the similarities in location, tonally it reminded me very much of how the film authorities of the Middle Kingdom would make a Jurassic Park sequel.

In this case it's not dinosaurs, it's a volcano. And like the franchise Spielberg hath wrought, mankind is once again messing with natural forces it foolishly thinks it can gawp at from up close in safety and comfort.

In the opening scene we see a catastrophic eruption on the fictional island of Tin Hao. A young girl, Meng Li, is driving away from the destruction with her vulcanologist father, but they lose her mother in the pyroclastic cloud that races through the jungle behind them.

Years later, Meng is a vulcanologist herself, and as we meet her she's placed the last of a series of sensors inside the cone her and her team hope will model its properties so closely they'll be able to predict the next eruption.

Her now-estranged Dad, Wentao, is certain it's about to blow its stack soon and implores her to pack up and leave, but she want none of it. Someone else who hopes it won't blow anytime soon and who listens to his advisors telling him it'll be at least a century is Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs, in full cheque collecting mode).

Harris has built a luxury resort on the island nearby and futuristic transport systems that takes fascinated guests right inside the caldera safely, and he's on the cusp of a deal that will assure the future of the place and his own fortune forever.

Of course, no sooner has the first group travelled by the advanced aerial rail system to descend into the fiery pit on a state of the art elevator platform than it all goes spectacularly wrong and the volcano wakes up to show the foolish humans their hubris.

Along with the rest of her team, a pair of star crossed lovers and a local village full of people, Meng, Wentao, Jack and the other occupants of the now-killer island have to race against time to try to ensure everyone's safety before the whole thing goes up.

There are some very cool and effective action set pieces (jumping from one aerial train to another is a particular standout), but the dialogue and plot are on the hammy side – it seems to be a particular Asian sensibility to do this sort of thing with a lot of cliche and little subtlety.

It's a fun enough watch, but as a historical record of what the Chinese film authorities hope to accomplish in the coming years and the modus operandi they want to use to do so, it's pretty fascinating.

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