The Captain

The Captain 
t.l. Il comandante
中国机长 (Zhong Guo Ji Zhang)

China, 2019, 111’, Mandarin 
Directed by: Andrew Lau 
Script: Yu Yonggan
Photography (color): Edmond Fung
Editing: Azrael Chung
Art Direction: Andrew Cheuk
Costume Design: Lee Pik-kwan
Music: Chan Guangrong, Chen Zhiyi
Sound: Victor Ray Ennis
Action: Li Dachao
Visual Effects: Pan Guoyu, Joe Ceballos, Brian Meanley
Technical Supervision: Wang Baobo
Flight Advice: Zeng Baochun
Producers: Huang Xiang, Jiang Defu, Quji Xiaojiang, Xu Zhiyong, Dong Yu
Production Companies: Zhejiang Bona Production (CN); Bona Entertainment (HK)
Cast: Zhang Hanyu (Liu Changjian, captain), Ou Hao (Xu Yichen, first officer), Du Jiang (Liang Dong, second captain), Yuan Quan (Bi Nan, head stewardess), Zhang Tian’ai (Huang Jia, stewardess), Li Qin (Zhou Yawen, stewardess), Zhang Yamei (Zhang Qiuyue, stewardess), Yang Qiru (Yang Hui, stewardess), Gao Ge (Wu Yan, security officer), Huang Zhizhong (Wang Mo, Southwest Air Traffic controller), Zhu Yawen (Sichuan Regulatory Authority manager), Li Xian (Southwest Air Traffic Control Centre controller), Yang Ying [Angelababy] (Sichuan Airlines stewardess, Liang Dong’s wife), Chen Shu (Zou Han, Liu Changjian’s wife), Liu Weiqiang [Andrew Lau] (Tibet Airlines captain)

Date of First Release in Territory: September 30th, 2019
Premiere status: Italian Premiere

The Chinese film year was characterised by the release of several films based on real-life events and with openly patriotic/nationalistic messages; The Captain is definitely a standout in the genre thanks to its realism used to describe the narrated facts, for the quality of the photography and for the spectacular content. It is no coincidence that the film, a co-production with Hong Kong, is directed by Andrew Lau, who, while pragmatically adapting to the political situation of the film market, refuses to relinquish his artistic vision; he has been rewarded by the great commercial success of the film: it has totaled almost CNY 3 billion, entering the ranking of the ten most successful films of the year. 

The Captain tells the story of a drama that occurred over Chinese skies on May 14, 2018, when Sichuan Airlines’ Chongqing – Lhasa flight encountered violent turbulence that caused the plane to drop in altitude when the cockpit window shattered. Only the professionalism and cool head of the pilot, and the sense of discipline of the rest of the crew, averted a tragedy.

The film recounts in detail, with a skillful crescendo of narrative tension, how both crew and passengers lived those moments. The story begins with a detailed description of the narrative premise: the flight from Chongqing to Lhasa is a routine flight for the crew made up of captain Liu Changjiang – a very precise ex-military pilot, a bit wooden but experienced and who knows the route like the back of his hand, played by Zhang Hanyu – and other regulars on the flight such as Bi Nan, the flight attendant manager, played by Yuan Quan in a very convincing way. The young co-pilot, talented but arrogant and distracted by flirting with one of the flight attendants, infuriates the captain who offers him a lesson in professional etiquette as they prepare for takeoff. But it’s also a journey that signifies different things to the various passengers – some are travelling for work, some for holidays, some to evoke missing friends, some to return home, and some to visit Tibet in search of the spirituality they miss elsewhere. The disaster unfolds abruptly and rapidly escalates – after the first altitude loss, the captain has to ensure the plane has enough altitude to avoid crashing into the Tibetan plateau, but a phenomenal storm looms on the horizon as oxygen in the cabin begins to be scarce...

The film is almost documentary in style, the photography and special effects are skillfully used to make the viewer feel they are on board the plane and experiencing the same terror; the relief of the protagonists on landing is almost palpable. The idea behind the film seems to be that while the passengers will probably struggle to get over the shock, for the crew the drama of that flight is one of the hazards of the job and therefore must be overcome as soon as possible. The captain, instead of accepting the gratitude of the passengers and the admiration of his colleagues for the skill deployed to avert disaster, even apologises to the passengers for the delay caused by the accident, while the rest of the crew comply with usual landing procedures, as if nothing had happened.

The exaggeratedly heroic attitude of the captain and crew contradicts the realism of the central part of the story, without however compromising the entertainment value of the film as a whole, and in particular the action scenes. Andrew Lau makes a cameo in the film, as a Tibet Airlines pilot.

Andrew Lau (b. 1960) is one of Hong Kong’s most famous filmmakers. He became director of photography for directors such as Ringo Lam (City on Fire), Wong Jing and Wong Kar-wai (As Tears Go By and Chungking Express), and has also been directing and producing since 1990. Though a prolific and versatile filmmaker, his best-known films are action and crime, such as Young and Dangerous and Infernal Affairs, in collaboration with co-director Alan Mak and screenwriter Felix Chong. In 2014 he directed Revenge of the Green Dragons produced by Martin Scorsese in the United States. 

1993 – Raped by an Angel 
1996 – Young and Dangerous 
1998 – The Storm Riders
2000 – Born to Be King
2002 – Infernal Affairs 
2005 – Initial D 
2011 – A Beautiful Life
2014 – Revenge of the Green Dragons
2017 – The Founding of an Army
2019 – The Captain
Maria Barbieri
Film director: Andrew Lau
Year: 2019
Running time: 111'
Country: China
28/06 - 11:00 PM
Far East Film Festival Online
28-06-2020 23:00 29-06-2020 00:51Europe/Rome The Captain Far East Film Festival Far East Film Festival OnlineCEC Udine
Available worldwide for the whole duration of the Festival (except China PRC)