Hong Kong’s highest-grossing film director, Dante Lam (“Operation Red Sea,” “Operation Mekong”), returns this 2020 Lunar New Year with Eddie Peng-starring action-thriller, “The Rescue.” With over 700 million RMB (100million USD) and film locations in both Xiamen and Mexico, “The Rescue” claims to be the biggest Chinese production set at sea. Despite the impressive titles however, what should be a two-hour-long, tightly-choreographed dance with death slips up at the seams.

“The Rescue” follows the story of the captain of an Emergency Response Unit of the Chinese Coast Guard, Gao Qian (Eddie Peng). After years of peacefully leading his all-male troop, his team suddenly gets shaken up when individual members leave, one by one — allowing beautiful, but outspoken female pilot, Fang Yuling (Xin Zhilei), to substitute them instead. While Gao must balance this new voice on his team, the single father must also care for his shy, musically-gifted son CongCong (Zhang Jingyi). Though poop jokes, bubbling romantic tension, and flagrant fanservice pepper the film, “The Rescue” is not all fun and games. Under the constant pressure of danger on jagged cliff faces and turbulent waters, Gao realizes that only resilience can weather life’s unexpected catastrophes.

The film took over five years of production, and it clearly shows. Perhaps this marks the one of the film’s greatest weaknesses: “The Rescue” feels less like a linear narrative, and more like a series of life vignettes that messily mashed together. After each rescue scene, the screen fades to black; transitions rarely exist, if at all, to indicate how much time has passed between each moment of fleeting adrenaline. On one hand, this feels deliberate. Almost mimicking the memory of a rescue team operations’, each big project comes in bursts and connects little to Gao’s quotidien bliss. On the other hand, this feels disorienting. The story line becomes difficult to follow, and the explosive action scenes feel repetitive. The constant ups and downs of each rescue scene wears out the viewer as much as it does Gao, sapping out the energy from each frantic rescue mission. 

And unlike Imaishi Hiroyuki’s “Promare” – another recent (but animated and a touch fantastical) film about a rescue team – “The Rescue” struggles with revealing the human to the Chinese Coast Guard. Despite the understated romantic tones, Gao and Fang are almost emotionally impenetrable, and perhaps almost too bodily perfect. Gao is Adonis-like; a good team leader and loving father, he has few flaws save for the occasional misstep. Alternatively, Fang exists as a superficially pretty, but passive side of the coin. Though she is written in as a strong, female character, she is just as easily written off as just a potential romantic interest for much of the film. It’s hard to sympathize with their losses, since they simply aren’t relatable.

Both characters are only balanced by Zhang Jingyi’s convincingly honest performance of CongCong. Zhang breathes fresh naivete into the polished roles of his predecessors. Bringing out the role of a child actor, Zhang truly stands out in introducing emotional levity, human fears, and naked vulnerability back to Gao and Fang’s stone-cold characters. Utter devastation cannot exist without love, Zhang’s delighted acting seems to suggests. The pure joy Zhang emits steals the hearts of those who watch over him both in the film and in the cinema.

All in all, “The Rescue” is a palpable watch. Though perhaps a little gruesome at parts — Lam does not hold back in documenting close-ups of human agony — the film as a whole is sure to serve as popcorn entertainment. “The Rescue” is a rollercoaster that will incite laughter and tears, and will keep viewers at the edge of their seats.

“The Rescue” is co-produced by China Communications Press Co., Ltd., China Modern Film And Television Development Company Limited, Emperor Film Production Company Limited, Tencent Pictures Cultural Diffusion Co., Ltd, Zhejiang Bona Film & Television Production Company Limited, Beijing Autonavi YunMap Technology Co., Ltd., Tianjin Maoyan Weying Culture Media Co., Ltd., and is distributed by CMC Pictures.