(aka, Polar Pursuit)
Okay, I’ll admit it.
Twelve Hours feels a lot like winning the big Jackpot.
Yeah, yeah, I know I grumble all the time about all those Chinese made science fiction and horror films which keep appearing on Youku’s Youtube channel. About how they have all these great effects, potentially interesting storylines and good production values, but then somehow fail to bring it all together into a cohesive whole.
At times it seems like they’ve left out half the story.
But here’s a Chinese made science fiction film which is actually…pretty good.
I have no idea how that happened.
True, I’ve praised a few recent Chinese made Science Fiction and Horror films, like Monster [Guàishòu] (2018), the independently made The End of the Lonely Island (2016) and its sequel Deep In (2021), but on the whole, China may be producing a lot of new genre films, but only a few of them are anything other than routine.
In the most frustrating sort of way.
A desperate man in a city in the future decides to accept what he thinks is an instant loan from a credit company, but then is attacked and taken prisoner.
He awakes in a strange forest, with a collection of strangers who were also kidnapped after signing a loan contract with the same company.
But before they can figure out anything else, a group of armed men attack them.
This is followed by one attack after another, by monsters, deadly earth tremors, and professional killers.
But this is all part of some greater design, of a far bigger and more sinister plan.
But can any of them survive long enough to learn the truth?
All right, I’ll admit, we’ve seen bits of this movie elsewhere before. But, let’s face it, if you’ve seen enough B-Movies, then you should be used to that.
Nor is it really kept a secret for very long that they are in some sort of virtual reality, and that this is all in service of a massive corporate plot to carry out some highly illegal and unethical experiments. But what is particularly cool about this is that the head of this big corporation and the team of lackeys in her control room all speak in English.
With an absolutely terrible accent, but, hey, we’ve got subtitles!
Now if you asked me what it is that made 12 Hours so much better than the typical Youku movie, I would have a hard time explaining what makes the difference — particularly when so many of those other current Chinese genre films are so well produced, with great sets, costumes and CGI (well, most of the time).
But my first answer would be remarkably simple: for once there’s enough story to go around.
For example, consider The Cases of Disappearances (2022) a stunningly elegant and artistic film whose story was completely undermined by dozens of unanswered questions and with huge gaping holes where some of the critical plot points should have been.
But that isn’t the case with 12 Hours, where the story flows just as it should, with critical points set up ahead of time to prepare us for the next big shock. And, what’s more, this is even true of the bittersweet ending, which pays off a few key lines of dialogue from about midway through the film. That is a solid example of the sort of good writing which is so rare these days.
Remember that this is an action movie, which is one of those genre’s which has suffered enormously from the failure of so many filmmakers to follow such basic rules of writing, despite the fact that few genres need strong writing as much as an action movie does.
After all, what really matters is not that we get to watch a lot of eye candy fights, or monsters, or stunning Wire Fu. What matters is that we are given some reason to care about what we are watching,
All this should be basic, and yet it seems so rare in our day and age.
Particularly when you watch those movies on Youku.
The irony is that my attempts to tell you why 12 Hours is good have mostly been reasons why it isn’t terrible, but it is a beautifully made Science Fiction Action Movie, with a great villain, likeable heroes, a few interesting ideas, and, yes, good Wire Fu. It is wildly entertaining and a joy to watch.
And, let’s face it, we’re not making too many sci fi action movies this entertaining here in the U.S., either.
So if you are in the mood for some high energy action in a cool VR setting, you could do a lot worse than 12 Hours.
Whether you are watching Youku or not.