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Till the End of the World
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by Jay Seaver

"Simple but striking survival"
4 stars

"Till the End of the World" feels like the sort of movie that they used to show us in school when they needed to give the teachers a break or there was a hole in the lesson plan - an attention-grabbing story of survival that nevertheless had something like a PG rating and enough science and practical information that we could be said to be learning something useful. It's not bad, as that sort of thing goes, and has the sort of Antarctic photography that's worth seeing on the big screen, even if it is kind of too long and gets heavy by the end.

It's genial enough even as it starts in what seems like overly-familiar territory, with "Fortune" Wu Fu Chun (Mark Chao You-ting) making a bit of an ass of himself as his charter plane flies over Antarctica - he has a plan to stage destination weddings on the continent - with two other passengers, Natasha and Jing Ruyi (Yang ZIshan), who are heading for scientific outposts. There won't be much time for that, though, when the plane flies into a storm and goes down, with Natasha not long for the world and Ruyi's leg broken. Fortunately, Fu Chun is able to find a shed in which they can take shelter, and Ruyi thinks it might be one 20km away from her base. She doesn't know which direction, though, and that's a lot of ground for Fu-chun to cover when they have an estimated 70 days of supplies.

The two-person cast proves to be all the movie needs, in large part because filmmaker Wu You-yin doesn't spend a lot of time making them rub each other the wrong way just to have conflict. Mark Chao tones the immaturity down after the plane goes down, but he's still able to make plenty of comic moments work even while conveying Fu Chun's growing maturity and determination. Yang Zishan similarly sheds the early portrayal of Ruyi as uptight and a bit snobbish, converting it into a believable pessimism that nevertheless has room for changed perspective later on. The love story stops being understated after a while, but it's earned, and even when it seems like it might be a matter of survival instinct as much as true affection, that's legitimate, and it works for them.

Wu never really goes in for subtlety, which is fine for the bulk of the movie, as Antarctica is an alien environment for both Fu Chun and the audience. It's useful to have Ruyi drop a lot of information early on, and it's seldom dry or a long lecture that both Fu Chun and the audience wait out, but a way to simultaneously reflect how her despair has some justification while his plan is somewhat foolhardy. Plus, it's not as though the new bits of knowledge Ruyi drops or the new situations Fu Chun finds himself in are ever not interesting, though there is an element of fatigue to it eventually, as if Wu had wanted to fit every bit of his research into his original novel and then knew he and the other filmmakers likely weren't going to have many chances to shoot something like this again. It's enough for the film to eventually start feeling like he's extending it so that he can check everything off a list, eventually piling on in a way that seems more capricious and downright mean than nature itself.

Despite the danger he faces, Wu Fuchun is never so heads down with the need to get to the next minute that he can't see the stark, pristine beauty of the ice field where he and Fuyi are stranded; the filmmakers capture glorious widescreen vistas and have fun playing with the local wildlife, and it demands better-than-DVD presentation. It almost makes the effects work having the occasional issue or certain scenes having the look of being shot on a Shanghai soundstage rather than on location okay - it means the filmmakers aren't trying to fake natural beauty, but just using CGI to move the story forward when need be. It doesn't hurt at all to have a Joe Hisaishi score, either, by turns playful, dramatic, and mournful, adding a playful twist to some scenes and enhancing the emotion of others without underlining it in melodramatic fashion.

I'd probably cut a bit out of this before showing it in a school setting, as it turns out; it gets a bit darker and goes on long enough that kids might get fidgety. It is still a heck of a big-screen movie presentation, getting drama out of a simple story and making it look great on screen.

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originally posted: 02/05/18 09:52:43
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Directed by
  Youyin Wu

Written by
  Youyin Wu

  Mark Chao
  Zishan Yang

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