Review: Dante Lam’s OPERATION RED SEA Never Runs Dry

Action auteur Dante Lam’s latest offering, Operation Red Sea, runs high on military might for its +2 hour runtime. Most of the film relies heavily on the orchestra of all things that go boom but lends the few obligatory small doses of poignance and drama to enduce empathy among its key characters for a film with such a large cast.

Actor Zhang Yi plays Yang Rui who leads the Chinese Navy’s eight-member Jiaolong Assault Unit for the film’s narrative loosely based on the 2015 uprising in Yemen. Certain areas of the story are reworked with the crux of our story set in the nation of Yewaire and behind enemy lines where for Rui and his unit, a rescue mission now comes abruptly packaged with foiling an even deadlier terroristic threat.

Lam’s script, written with Feng Ji, doesn’t try too much to be anything more than it is, as there are way too many things going “boom!” for that to happen. Character relationships are still healthily displayed along with select differences, most notably between Rui, and that of Christina Hai’s portrayal of Xia Nan, a tenacious Chinese-French journalist with her own resolve much to the chagrin of Rui’s own stoic nature.

Johnny Huang plays hot shot sniper Gu Shun to actor Yin Fang’s Li Dong who functions as Gu’s spotter in the battlefield. Actor Wang Yutian tackles the supporting role of Rocky, a Jiaolong member with a candy fix and serves as buddying machinegunner next to actress Jiang Luxia, who despite bearing minimal screentime in recent history, turns in a striking and strong dramatic performance that definitely gets physical in the third act.

The film kicks right into high gear as it prefaces with a high seas tactical mission against Somali pirates which sets up several of the necessary portions of the story that culminate later on. Things get a lot more palpitating about forty minutes in as the action heats up with actor Du Jiang in the role of Xu Hong attempting to diffuse a remote bomb strapped to a civilian.

Visual spectacle gushes on screen with specific scenes hailing slow-motion bullet-time when sniper fights arise, and even missle-time when tank battles occur – yes, clearly China loves its tank battles and Wolf Warrior 2 is certainly no exception. Lam’s further use of gory imagery doesn’t hold back as characters are either blown to bits, shot, relieved of their fingers or arms, defaced or downright tortured, including in one scene where a terrorist gets a little too handy with another character’s innards.

Elliot Leung’s score helps breathe life into the kinetic soldiering and action stimuli led by Lam who coordinates the action backed nonetheless by the usual military consultants and coordinators on hand to take to task the various intricacies of designing cinematic warfare. Naval ship weaponry and drone warfare are just a few of the select set pieces that light-up the screen next to the tanks and numerous firearms.

Lam goes hard and heavy with Operation Red Sea. Not all of it will suit all moviegoers and understandably so as some of its content is definitely for the unabated. Cinephiles alike who are into films that tackle the very spate of jingoistic film fare may get a kick out of Lam’s new war thriller, regardless.

Multiple characters means lots of moving pieces so keeping up is a little challenging, especially with just some of the English dialogue. Guest appearances make way with the likes of Simon Yam and that of Operation Mekong star Hanyu Zhang, the latter who recurs with Lam for a different role this time around.

If you love Lam’s work and enjoyed his previous pseudo-realistic thriller with actor Zhang Hanyu, Operation Red Sea will make for a delightful moviegoing treat. Cringeworthy violence and bits of dialogue aside, it does a pretty spiffy job of sticking to its guns and selling what sells for today’s Chinese moviegoing demographic and abroad.