Polar Rescue (2022) brings together action superstar Donnie Yen and director Lo Chi-Leung for the first time. Considering Leung was behind quality actioners like Double Tap (2000) and The Bullet Vanishes (2012), a collaboration between him and Yen suggests the possibility of an action classic. However, Polar Rescue is a different kind of Donnie Yen vehicle, with Yen putting aside the martial arts in favor of a purely dramatic role.

Yen plays everyman A-De, a loving but stern father who is on a family holiday with his wife and kids in the Changbai Mountains. His son Lele (Yuan Jinhui) has been wanting to visit a lake there so A-De takes an alternative route, but this just leads to trouble leading to an argument between him and his son. As Lele continues to act like a spoiled arsehole (yes, you guessed it, Lele is one of those annoying movie kids), A-De decides to leave him behind as a form of punishment.

Obviously A-De has no real intentions of leaving his son behind, merely using this technique to scare his son and teach him a lesson. Dropping his wife (Cecilia Han) and daughter off, A-De travels back to where he left Lele only to find that he is missing. If like me, you’re probably hoping A-De sees sense and decides to just leave the little shit behind, but no, A-De is more dedicated than that and decides to call in the authorities to search for his son.

Originally being released 2 years back, Polar Rescue didn’t exactly open to critical acclaim, so much so that I almost forgot about it until Well Go USA reported they were releasing it Stateside. Part of the reason for it being overlooked could be due to it being sandwiched in between Raging Fire (2021) and John Wick Chapter 4 (2023), arguably two of Yen’s most high profile films to date. Or it could be the fact that with this being a more drama orientated film, audiences were turned off by Yen not unleashing his expected martial arts skills. Or simply it could just be that Polar Rescue isn’t particularly good.

The film marks the first film from Lo Chi-Leung in seven years, with his last outing being the poorly received The Vanished Murderer (2015). Personally I didn’t find that film to be particularly poor even if it did continue Leung’s penchant for ripping off other movies, with one particular action scene from Ryoo Seung-Wan’s The Berlin File (2013) being almost copied wholesale.

Leung isn’t so blatant here, although Polar Rescue does follow the typical genre tropes inherent with disaster movies. If anything, it may have fared better if Leung did copy some other action movies, because that is the one thing that is sadly lacking from the film.

There is an impressively mounted avalanche scene, which is by far the film’s largest set piece. Other than this there are a couple of fight scenes, but these aren’t exactly what the audience wants or expects. Mainly these involve Yen getting his arse kicked. What is more ridiculous is that one particular fight has him getting beat up by his child’s supposed rescuers, for no obvious reason.

Strangely, mostly everyone other than Yen comes across as complete dicks, and that’s including his missing son. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the last time I have witnessed such an annoying child on screen. Perhaps if the rescuers had seen him during the opening of the film it would explain their indifference in rescuing the boy, as I also found it very hard to care about his predicament. Instead, the supporting cast of characters come across more as cyphers than real people due to their inexplicable behavior.

Leung, who also co-wrote the script with Zhang Xiaolu, Yeung Sin-Ling and Ying Chi-Wen does inject some relevant themes into the film in order to make proceedings more interesting. There are prevalent questions asked around the likes of how law enforcement handle missing person cases and the use of social media, but these seem merely here to pad out a simple story with the intention of making Polar Rescue seem more important or interesting than it actually is. In some respects, the inclusion of such elements have an adverse effect on the film with them slowing up the momentum of what should be a fast paced thriller.

At least Yen fares better, giving a sympathetic performance, that although doesn’t rank amongst his finest work shows he is at least willing to stretch himself as an actor. It was refreshing to see that he wasn’t the out and out hero, with it becoming apparent as the film progresses that he isn’t the best husband or father as we initially thought.

Yen does have a tendency to go overboard with the histrionics now and again but keeps his character on the right side of relatable. Well at least for the most part, as he does make some extremely silly decisions during the film, with him constantly putting himself in harm’s way. This happens enough to become grating.

It is disappointing that the first collaboration between Donnie Yen and Lo Chi-Leung hasn’t led to a better movie, with this being Yen’s poorest starring vehicle since Iceman: The Time Traveler (2018). At least that still contained some decent fight scenes whereas there isn’t much here to recommend other than to the most devoted Yen fan.

It is doubly disappointing that Lo Chi-Leung’s first film in seven years is probably his poorest. Whilst not the most original of directors, his films have for the most part been enjoyable with a nice professional sheen. Although Polar Rescue shares the same professional sheen of his previous work, it has little else that would make me recommend it.

Thankfully Yen has several upcoming films that are clearly focused on pleasing his fans. Misjudgement, Ip Man 5 and Flash Point: Resurgence all sound like perfect Yen vehicles. The most surprising of the three is the Ip Man sequel, with the character succumbing to cancer in the previous installment. It will be interesting to see how this is handled in the upcoming sequel.

Plot: 2/5
Acting: 3/5
Action: 1/5
Overall: 2/5


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