WINGS OVER EVEREST (2019) review


When a plane transporting highly-sensitive CIA files crashes in the “death zone” of Mount Everest, above 8,000 meters of altitude and with temperatures that can go down to -60°C, a moutain rescue team headed by Jiang Yuesheng (Koji Yakusho) is tasked by shady operatives Victor and Marcus Hawk (Victor Webster and Graham Shiels) with locating it and retrieving the documents. After the tragic death of Jiang’s daughter months earlier, the team is one member short, so he must reluctantly hire gifted but reckless climber Xiao Daizi (Zhang Jingchu). She herself lost her boyfriend during an ill-fated expedition to the summit, and is hoping to locate and bring back his body. But when it appears that the plane’s contents – and Hawk’s intent – are not what they seem, the climb turns deadly.

Though billed as another in a recent and highly successful series of Chinese rescue films (including The Bravest and The Captain), Fei Yu’s Wings over Everest is more of a Chinese cousin to Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger, with which it shares both a premise of climbers roped into retrieving the contents of a crashed plane by dangerous criminals, and an over-the-top approach to mountain thriller tropes. Indeed, believability is thrown early on to the Himalayas’ 160 km/h winds; Fei Yu is an accomplished mountaineer himself, but doesn’t for one second aim for documentary precision, apart from a few token statistics of wind speeds and temperatures. This is a film where you get across a ravine by jumping, and where two exhausted climbers can have a full-blown ice axe fight in the rarefied air of the Everest’s summit.

It’s certainly never boring, and for a first-time director, Fei Yu shows a firm grip, papering over the gaping holes of his own script with a sustained pace, bracingly brutal actions scenes, ace cinematographer Lai Yiu Fai’s gorgeous images, and typically enjoyably-grandiose score by Kenji Kawai. It helps that Zhang Jingchu makes for a fiercely sympathetic and beautifully resilient lead, her interactions the great Koji Yakusho – both warm and brittle – giving some heart to the film. And interim Scorpion King Victor Webster makes for a fine villain, formidable and hissable yet far from the usual grating Gweilo caricature that recently reached its own summit in Ip Man 4. And the film has an interestingly ambiguous ending that the aforementioned Sly classic would certainly not have dared.

Long Story Short: The great Zhang Jingchu and Koji Yakusho anchor this enjoyably over-the-top mountain thriller, which papers over its plot holes and implausibilities with a fine sense of spectacle. ***


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