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Operation Red Sea

Opening Date
16 Feb 2018
M18 Violence
138 mins
Mandarin with English & Chinese subtitles
Action, Adventure
Dante Lam
Zhang Yi, Huang Jingyu, Hai Qing, Du Jiang
The Chinese Navy’s Jiaolong (“Sea Dragon”) Assault Team is famed for its skill in getting the job done. After its success in rescuing a cargo ship hijacked by pirates off the Somalia coast, the team is assigned an even more perilous mission. A coup in a North African republic has left local Chinese residents in danger, circumstances further complicated by a terrorist plot to obtain nuclear materials. The situation could prove fatal to the hostages and disastrous to the entire region, and presents Jiaolong with a challenge that threatens the very existence of the team and its members. 
By Say Peng  13 Feb 2018
Operation Red Sea is extremely thrilling to watch and there is no second in the film that lets the audience off the hook. But all it amounts to is nothing but a series of action set pieces stitched together, a rush of empty calories.
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Operation Red Sea is the new film by Hong Kong commercial director Dante Lam. It is the second film of his Operation series. Two years ago, Dante Lam directed Operation Mekong, inspired by the actual events of the Mekong River massacre in 2011. Operation Mekong depicted Chinese narcotics officers embarking on a mission to take down a major drug kingpin operating in the infamous Golden Triangle after thirteen Chinese fishermen were murdered by him. 

Operation Red Sea treads roughly the same path. The protagonists are highly trained Chinese navy soldiers, the Chinese version of Navy SEALS. But instead of a revenge story, Operation Red Sea is a rescue film. In 2015, the Chinese government sent a Navy frigate to Yemen’s southern port city of Aden to help evacuate more than 200 nationals from 10 countries, including Singapore, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, and of course, China. It was an unprecedented move, the first time Chinese military contributed to humanitarian missions, the result of which China was praised by the international community. It was part of China’s plan to boost its image, following years of negative publicity related to its maritime disputes with its neighbours. No doubt, Operation Red Sea, which is supported by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Government TV Art Central, is part of that continued effort of image-boosting. It’s China’s Ah Boys to Men without the boys. Plainly put, it’s propaganda.

But calling it propaganda is not to smear the film. Even for propaganda films, there are well made ones and ones that are just blatently unimaginative. Operation Red Sea falls somewhere in between. Directors who make action films often hire and work with an action choreographer to design the action set pieces. Not Dante Lam, who designs the action choreography himself. And Lam is a master action chereographer. The flourishes of his talent can be seen in his previous films such as Hit Team, Tiramisu, and the Beast Stalker. They are extremely thrilling to watch and there is no second in the film that lets the audience off the hook. 

But there aren’t really any characters in the film. The characters are but people carrying guns with a couple of sketches of personality traits, not flesh-and-blood human beings despite losing a lot of blood. We are not really made to care about any of them. Character development is non-existent. This too describes Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, but the difference is that Dunkirk offered a new cinematic experience whereas all Operation Red Sea amounts to is nothing but a series of action set pieces stitched together, a rush of empty calories.  

If there is anything to be grateful for, it’s that Lam has avoided the worst of propaganda films: cliche rousing heart-pumping and patriotic dialogue and characters. 
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