Skyfire (天·火) harks back to a simpler time when disaster movies ran the summer market. This flawed but entertaining Chinese film has a lot of charm with some great action set pieces. Skyfire (天·火) is the epitome of a summer popcorn flick.
20 years after the eruption of a volcano on Tianhuo Island kills her mother. Xiao Meng Li (Hannah Quinlivan) is working as a geologist on the same island. Hired by business developer Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs) to make sure it is safe for his new theme park resort built there. Against Meng Li’s warnings that the volcano is not as dormant as it should be. Harris vows to carry on with the opening day celebration, risking thousands of lives as the volcano begins to rumble.
Skyfire (天·火) starts with a bang (literally) with a prologue of young Xiao Meng Li and her family working during the first eruption. It is a devastating desperate scene as everyone tries to get to safety. The chaos in these opening moments is so strong. That you wish that they gave us another couple of extra minutes to fully see what happened. We are immediately invested in this group and how Xiao Meng Li and her father got to safety. It is still an effective sequence and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
We learn more about how these scientists simply didn’t see the eruption coming in a lecture from Xiao Meng Li’s father Wentao Li (Xueqi Wang), the core of the volcano erupted in 20 minutes, in comparison to Mount Vesuvius’ multiple hours. They never had a chance. Thus we are quickly given the plot of the film. A foolish developer has for some reason bought land on the small island and built a theme park resort there, as the volcano still bubbles ominously over the potential new guests.
We haven’t seen disaster films like this in quite a while (unless you are Dwayne Johnson) that are given a decent enough budget to make work. With this being the first Chinese one that I have seen and honestly. I have an undying love for these types of films. Fans of those films from the 70s’ to mid-90s are in for a treat with Skyfire (天·火) as it is one massive homage to them. What helps is that it feels like we are due a tonne of remakes of this genre as the CGI effects are now at the level where we can fully realise the effects and gravity of the disasters than we could 40 years prior.
In that regard, Skyfire (天·火) does not disappoint at all, for those wanting to see a big-budget disaster movie you are truly in for a treat. We spend a little time with our ensemble. All good disaster films need a wide range of characters to slowly perish throughout the remaining runtime. This time out we have the greedy businessman and his wife Qianwei/Leslie (Ma Xinmo) who needs the resort to open to make sure they dodge financial ruin. We have our geologist who is haunted from her past events on the island and her estranged father, guilt-ridden over not getting to save his wife in time. There is also a young couple on their way to the resort with the hopes of a proposal. One from the village on the island and the other who works with Xiao Meng Li.
Our characters don’t appear to get much development beyond Li’s and Qianwei. This is disappointing as there is a significant time to develop them more than what we get. It is fairly obvious that this is a father, daughter tale though. The bulk of the characterisation is put on our two leads with Shawn Dou there to deliver some extra physicality to the piece.
Where the actors fail the story is in the believability of the heat of the lava. There needed to be a far sight more discomfort to these characters with being so ridiculously close to it and the fires that it causes. Unsurprisingly perhaps it is Jason Isaacs who shines more in the acting side. He can give the audience a character who we can dislike and then quickly feel empathy for when the resort begins to become a fireball.
The visual effects are a mixed bag here when we have large expansive shots the work is fantastic. Yet when we get into the action shots the special effects become more disjointed, which is a shame. We do not see the deaths of people on the island in a graphic manner. Their demises are no less traumatic, with Simon West taking no prisoners when it comes to their end. We also get some set pieces that defy logic. If you are here for a disaster film. You are kind of expected to leave logic to the side as a jeep reverses at speed over a small canyon.
By the way, that jeep takes a hell of a beating and somehow the tyres can cope with an insane amount of heat and if remembers right, lava. Some of the CGI work is a tad sketchy in moments. But that seems to be more of how characters are lit in regards to the shots. Luckily that does not deter you from enjoying the escape down the mountain.
That said, the entire journey from the top of the mountain to the coast made sense. There is a detour to try and get Jiahui’s grandfather. This was done as some of the group try to get the jeep going again. So it made sense, that as they wait, two would go off to get him as they were nearby.
Otherwise, the group aims to get down as direct as possible without stopping. It was reassuring not to have to handle needless diversions set in place. If a journey from the top (or roughly top) of a small island resort that has a volcano on it, then fear not, you are not going mad. It is indeed the story for the opening half of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Only this time out we have a far smaller budget.
An interesting method of the audience discovering of what might happen next if via news reports. We learn that our group of five have been able to get past one hurdle before a news report details us of what we are to expect next. It feels as though, if there were test audiences. They got confused at what was going to happen next and these added pieces of dialogue were added in to give us notice. It works of course but isn’t necessarily required.
There is a lovely touch regarding COVID-19 at the beginning of the end credits which was quite touching. As well as behind the scenes action footage placed in with a music video, can’t say I expected the second one when the credits began to roll.
Overall, it really has to be said how entertaining Skyfire (天·火)is. Simon West has done a good job here. While there are multiple flaws in the film, it is still a great bit of fun. We are left with a film with some great is copied set pieces. The action doesn’t stop when the disaster hits the resort. A solid disaster movie.
Skyfire (天·火) is released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital Monday 23rd November 2020
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