Loosely based on the evacuation of the 225 foreign nationals and almost 600 Chinese citizens from Yemen’s southern port of Aden during late March in the 2015 Civil War, “Operation Red Sea” is kind of a sequel to “Operation Mekong”, while it shares much similarities to “Wolf Warrior 2”.
The story revolves around Jiaolong (Sea Dragon), an eight-person special task force of the Chinese navy, to whom we are introduced as we watch them foiling a hijacking by Somalian pirates. The team succeeds, but their sniper suffers a crippling spinal injury and is eventually substituted by Gu Shun. Soon after, and as the aforementioned civil war commences, the team has to to save Deng Mei, a member of the Chinese embassy that has been captured by the rebels along with local officials, and to prevent Zaka, the leader of the “bad guys” from acquiring a yellowcake recipe, that will allow him to construct chemical weapons. After an ambush during their effort to relocate Yemeni civilians, the group finds itself having to assault a terrorist stronghold, guarded by 150 militants. At the same time, Hai Qing, a French-Chinese journalist also becomes involved in the events.
Dante Lam, directs, pens (along Feng Ji, Chen Zhuzhu and Eric Lin) as is the action director of one of the most impressive films we have seen during the latest years. The fact that this time, the action does not focus on one man (as in Wu Jing in “Wolf Warrior 2”) but instead follows all of the eight members of the group works wonders for the movie, as much as the fact that martial arts, take a back seat to guns. In that fashion, the action is truly cataclysmic, as each member has to face different enemies in the battlefield. Fung Yuen-man, Horace Wong Wing-hang have done a tremendous job on the cinematography department, utilizing both the mountains and deserts of Morocco (where the film was shot) and the urban settings in the best fashion, while the drone shots look utterly impressive. Even more outstanding is the editing of Choi Chi-hung and Lam Chi-hang, who induce the movie with an uncanny speed, which fits its aesthetics to perfection, while managing to allocate time to all members of the team. The quality of the SFX highlights the production’s big budget ($70 million), particularly during the various explosions and the thrilling sniper sequences.
The action takes over the narrative so much, that even the propaganda element usually associated with the similar Chinese blockbusters is pushed to the back, an element I found much beneficial for the film. Furthermore, the fact that the “good guys” also get their share of hits, even from the beginning, is also a tick on the pros list, as it demonstrates the fact that the protagonists are not superheroes but mere men. This tactic takes a toll on character creation, something that is expected of the genre though. In that fashion, the protagonists do not find much space to act. Zhang Yi as Yang Rui, the team leader, Huang Jingyu as Gu Shun, the replacement sniper who seems to have psychological issues, and Hai Qing as Xia Nan are the ones that manage to stand out, partially at least.
“Operation Red Sea” offers everything a fan of action blockbusters would ever with from the genre, and that is where the true value for one of the greatest entries in the category lies.