Thursday, April 18, 2024

Come Back Home: Polar Rescue (2022) Review

Director: Lo Chi-leung

Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Han Xue, Jia Bing, Tang Xu, Hou Tianlai, Guangyu Xu, Lin Chenhan, Hu Ming


Donnie Yen has been increasingly thoughtful about transitioning his career from an utterly badass action star towards a more traditional dramatic actor in his most recent career phase. Sure, he’s still going to unleash hell in action films like Raging Fire and Sakra, but even those films showcase a dynamic actor shifting his career focus to some degree.

This makes a film like Polar Rescue, titled Come Back Home for its original release back in 2022, such a unique film in the Hong Kong star’s filmography. It’s mostly a dramatic role for him and, for one of the few times in his career, he’s not an utter badass. On one hand, that means that his regular fanbase may find Polar Rescue a bit too different and not action-packed enough – or at all. On the other hand, it is something new for those who enjoy his performances to bite into. 


It’s a shame Polar Rescue isn’t a better movie for Yen to showcase his acting skills. 


Despite some intriguing efforts to create a layered storytelling experience about the role of fatherhood and the sensationalist swirling questions around a missing child when the story grabs the media's attention, Polar Rescue is a somewhat disjointed and narratively soggy affair. Director Lo Chi-leung (The Bullet Vanishes, Koma) definitely has a knack for key moments. Still, the overall film feels less than adequate - notably pulling its punches when it needs them the most in its darker themes like domestic violence, media frenzies, or – oddly enough – avalanche horrors.


Donnie Yen does get to shine in those critical moments, though. He plays De, the father and husband to a wife and two kids on vacation in the snowy mountains with his family. When his young son, Lele, goes missing after he attempts to punish him to teach him a lesson, De finds himself questioning all his life choices as he desperately searches for Lele.  Yen gets to play against his typical type by playing a character unsure of his place and stature in life and one that is humanistically flawed. The film’s narrative gives him a lot to play with here - including a few big dramatic moments that stretch the plotting and characters to a breaking point to get in a hefty melodramatic sequence - and he primarily handles it with impressive balance. 


However, the script and overall emotional journey that Polar Rescue wants to take is problematic. The film starts with an almost saccharine tone throughout its first act, where the setup feels redundant and thinly strung for its characters. It attempts to add layers as it goes, flashing back to key moments in the family’s history - which does attempt to give the wife’s character SOMETHING to do in this film - but so much of what’s added is jammed into the narrative to try and pull emotion rather than have it be naturally occurring.


Then, as Polar Rescue plays out, it does attempt to add some intriguing spins to its plot. The media has become a frantic horde. The rescue team and police start to question the legitimacy of risking their lives for a kid who may not even be alive, especially after a massive avalanche injures a slew of people and remarkably kills almost no one. There’s a random side plot where criminals claim to have kidnapped Lele for a ransom. To top it off, the film adds concerns that De is an abusive father and husband. These elements, which are interesting on the surface, seemingly come out of left field to keep the film moving and rarely add more to the overall theming and emotional weight. It becomes a guessing game of ‘what the hell will Polar Rescue throw at the audience’ in what constitutes a hodge podge of various dramatic beats that never gel together. 


All of these plot progressions allow the film to hit one or two emotionally intriguing moments, but the fact that none of them stick makes Polar Rescue feel forgettable within minutes of those moments occurring. In the end, some patchy CGI and some unintentionally humorous moments linger after the credits roll rather than the characters, themes, or emotional tolls that the film is firing desperately in all directions. It’s disjointed at best. 


It’s a shame, too. Polar Rescue does have some solid performances in it, anchored by Donnie Yen playing against type in some fantastic moments, but it’s such a puzzling dramatic mish-mash of ideas that it regularly steps on the thin ice of its script and finds it splintering under the weight. Ultimately, it’s a film that ends up being a whole lot of forgettable. Not bad enough to be entertaining, but not good enough to be thought-provoking. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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