Have you ever seen the opening scene of a movie and the entire plot unfurls itself and you see the whole movie in your mind two hours before it ends? The moment I saw Captain Jo In-chang’s pregnant wife, I immediately knew how one of the last scenes will play out and I can tell you I hit the bullseye. Ashfall, is epic is in its production values, but they should have increased the budget in the writing department.

This has a helluva star-studded cast. Ha Jung-woo plays Captain Cho In-chang, a bomb disposal expert a few days shy of retirement, who has to leave his heavily pregnant wife Choi Ji-young (Bae Suzy) to lead a covert mission into North Korea. The plan is to steal nuclear warheads, which are to be used to prevent further volcanic eruptions across the Han Peninsula. The plan belongs to Professor Kang Bong-rae (Ma Dong-seok), who prefers to go by “Robert”. He is aided by Security Secretary Jeon Yoo-kyung (Jeon Hye-jin). Cho has to collaborate with a North Korean defector, Lee Joon-pyeong (Lee Byung-hun), who has other plans.

This is as predictable as they come. Writer-directors Kim Byung-seo and Lee Hae-jun seemed like avid admirers of Roland Emmerich’s School of Destroying Planet Earth so much so that they have a clipboard with boxes to check. Check 1: a goofy scientist whom nobody believes until it’s too late. Check 2: destruction of iconic buildings in balletic motion. Check 3: vehicle careens down a road filled with other vehicles as a deep crack in the asphalt hastens on its tail seemingly wanting to devour it. Check 4… okay you get the point. Every Hollywood disaster trope is embraced here, leaving little for the imagination.

For a movie that needs to be striving for edge-of-the-seat suspense, it loses all sense of urgency in the umpteenth eleventh hour twists. You don’t even need to a jaded movie lover to see all the twists coming and know who is not going to make it. In movies like these, I play a mental game in guessing all the major emotional beats and plot developments before they drop. I can tell you I score a distinction here.

Ashfall might be about a disaster, but it isn’t all a disaster at the end of the day. Through all the family melodrama, mayhem, high-calibre shootouts, political gameplay and the buddy comedy, it manages to stay afloat and offers a timely, though contrived, message that sometimes all you need is love.

Rating: 2,5 / 5

Written by Daniel Chiam.