It would seem that China is now the go to destination for Hollywood directors to transition towards once their fortunes have begun to wane in the west. A few years back Renny Harlin decided upon directing the Jackie Chan vehicle Skiptrace (2016).
Although it was neither the star or director’s best work, it was enough of a success for Harlin to make the decision to up sticks from Hollywood and set up shop primarily in China. He has since gone on to direct the likes of Legend of the Ancient Sword (2018) and Bodies at Rest (2018) with a modicum of success.
Now it is director Simon West’s turn to try his chances, making his Chinese movie debut with disaster pic Skyfire. Ticking every box in the disaster movie making guidebook, Skyfire is tailor made for fans of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) or the more over the top antics of Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic 2012 (2009).
While it may never match the quality of said movies, West manages to generate a fair level of excitement on what is a fraction of the budget of most Hollywood blockbusters.
Like a modern take producer Irwin Allen’s When Time Ran Out (1980), Skyfire concerns the building of a world class resort on Tianhuo Island. The beautiful paradise is the brainchild of businessman Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs) who sees it as a fast track to success.
One major concern for the resort is that it is built around the “Ring of Fire,” the world-famous Pacific Rim volcanic belt, although Harris sees this as a selling point of the resort, with residents liking the idea of sleeping under a volcano without the risk of it erupting.
Unbeknownst to the guests, Harris has been warned by local scientist Li Xiao Meng (Hannah Quinlivan) that there is a high chance that the volcano will erupt. Xiao Meng has past experience of the volcano having lost her mother to it the last time it erupted. This resulted in her becoming estranged from her father, famed scientist Wentao Li (Wang Xueqi).
As expected she is quickly proven right, with it being up to her and her visiting father to try and get everyone to safety before the entire island is destroyed.
While Simon West’s directorial career is somewhat sporadic, it could never be claimed that he is a slouch in the action department. Of course it helps that his first film out is possibly one of the best action movies of the 1990’s, the explosive Con Air (1996). Since then he has gone on to helm a variety of action movies such as The Expendables 2 (2012) and Wild Card (2015) but none have ever equaled his movie debut.
Skyfire sits somewhere in the middle of West’s filmography in terms of quality. Like everything else, nothing in Skyfire lives up to the pleasures of Con Air, or even Expendables 2 for that matter, but West never phones it in. He gives everything a stylish sheen and keeps events moving at such a fast pace that you don’t get much of a chance to think about how frankly ridiculous everything is.
For the most part the action is competently handled, with the special effects being surprisingly decent in comparison to some other Chinese made actioners. The action is guilty of going over the top but this is to be expected in the disaster genre, with our heroes seemingly un-susceptible to the elements. On numerous occasions they are inches away from burning lava or fire but show no signs of passing out from the heat.
The cast do what they can with the roles they are given. The script by Wei Bu and Sidney King would never be classed as being multi faceted, with the characters and their developments being pretty one note.
The always excellent Wang Xueqi manages to come out the best of the lead cast, with him still being quite a convincing action hero at the grand age of 74. His relationship with Quinlivan’s character is the main thrust of the plot, and she does what she can with the role.
Quinlivan’s Li Xiao Meng has serious daddy issues which actually are more annoying than dramatic, with me wishing she would just grow the hell up, especially considering the catastrophes that are happening around her. Thankfully she starts to come round as the film progresses, and it can’t be denied that she looks beautiful throughout which is always a bonus. In matter of fact she may be too beautiful, as even with all the death and destruction surrounding her she always seems to look more like she has been made up for a modeling gig.
The real acting honours go to Jason Isaacs as the sole Western actor in the cast. Issacs adds a bit of gravitas to proceedings, with his character actually being more nuanced than I initially expected. When introduced he seems to be the typical ruthless businessman, throwing caution to the wind. He is shown to be in a considerable amount of debt, with his financial troubles all riding on the success of the hotel. He only realizes too late how wrong he was not to heed Li Xiao Meng’s warnings.
I thought Isaacs would be like the Richard Chamberlain character from The Towering Inferno (1974), willing to throw everyone to the side to save his own skin but he turns out to be the opposite, which was refreshing. Still, don’t get too carried away as this is as close to originality the film gets.
Accompanying the on screen action is a suitably rousing score by Turkish composer Pinar Toprak. It is somewhat of a coup for the producers of Skyfire to get Toprak to score the on screen action with her status being risen considerably after her stellar work on blockbuster Captain Marvel (2019).
Skyfire opened in China at the tail end of 2019, going straight to the number one spot. It has taken some time for it to secure a U.S. release date, with it finally securing an upcoming release date in January 2021. It will probably be the perfect time to release a film like Skyfire with it being a considerably quiet month, especially with a certain pandemic still ongoing.
Skyfire may be ultimately forgettable but it still makes for an enjoyable and unassuming 90 minutes of fast paced action. It also proves Simon West can still bring it when required. It has proven to be enough of a success for West to stay on in China, with him co-directing the upcoming The Legend Hunters which is scheduled to come out some time in 2021.
Plot: 2.5/5 Acting: 3/5 Action: 3/5 Overall: 2.8/5