Ashfall is very much a disaster film with a touch of extra, so the music is epic in spots and the cinematography shows the disaster loud and clear, while the effects assist everything.

Ashfall isn’t trying to do anything more than entertain viewers. Against the odds, Ashfall works at a dramatic level, largely thanks to the hard work of its cast and a real sense of commitment to the story that holds no matter how silly things get. Patently ludicrous but no less enjoyable for it, Ashfall is a rock-solid disaster spectacle bolstered by the savvy star pairing of Lee Byung-hun and Ha Jung-woo as unlikely allies tasked with a borderline impossible mission. Ashfall is not a masterpiece by any standard, but directors Lee Hae-jun and Kim Byeong-seo managed to create a decent disaster film that is up to standard in every way, from good acting and character-building to a solid storyline and suspense. Ashfall does not keep viewers guessing and delivers a message that love can indeed save the day. Ashfall might be a trope-ridden blockbuster, but it’s one with geopolitical significance.

Ashfall might be a trope-ridden blockbuster.

Lee Byung-hun as Lee Joon-pyeong
Ha Jung-woo as Captain Jo In-chang
Ma Dong-seok as Professor Kang Bong-rae
Jeon Hye-jin as Jeon Yoo-kyung
Bae Suzy as Choi Ji-young


A delight for disaster film fans

Mt. Paektu, an active volcano straddling the China–North Korea border, suddenly erupts, causing severe earthquakes in both North and South Korea. Pandemonium ensues on the Korean peninsula, with more eruptions predicted in the area. To prevent another disaster, Jeon Yoo-kyung (Jeon Hye-jin) plans an operation based on a theory by Professor Kang Bong-rae (Ma Dong-seok), who had studied Mt. Baekdu and its possible future eruptions.

Jo In-chang (Ha Jung-woo) is assigned to be the captain of a special forces team taking part in the operation. Jo In-chang contacts Lee Joon-pyeong (Lee Byung-hun) who is part of the Korean People’s Army in North Korea as a spy. Meanwhile, Jo In-Chang’s pregnant wife Choi Ji-young (Bae Suzy) is alone in Seoul and struggling to survive amidst the disaster.

In-Chang departs with his team on a plane, and they parachute after their airplane malfunctions. They locate Joon-pyeong, who was being held in a North Korean prison, and seek his knowledge in finding the correct mine closest to Mt. Paektu’s caldera. After threatening his dying wife to disclose the location of his daughter, Joon-pyeong guides In-chang’s team to a power station, and they extract a piece of uranium from a nuclear missile. This alerts the American garrison in South Korea, which sends soldiers to stop Joon-pyeong from delivering the uranium piece to several gangsters from China.

In-chang and Joon-pyeong evade the Americans and reach Bocheon, a town near Mt. Paektu. Joon-pyeong meets his frightened daughter, and just as the Chinese gangsters almost kill him for failing to deliver the uranium, In-chang gives the uranium, but sets its timer to coincide with Mt. Paektu’s eruption. Although the American soldiers also arrive to take the uranium, they and the Chinese gangsters flee when Mt. Baekdu erupts again, triggering more earthquakes. In-chang and Joon-pyeong bring the uranium to a mine. Joon-pyeong takes the bomb into the mine’s depths, leaving In-chang to go with Joon-pyeong’s daughter, whom he adopts. The uranium bomb explodes and stops the earthquakes, saving many lives.

One year later, North and South Korea together oversee the reconstruction of the peninsula. In-chang and Ji-young have a baby son.

Movie Information

Release date: December 19, 2019 (South Korea)
Directors: Kim Byung-seo, Lee Hae-jun
Box office: $61.3 million
Language: Korean
Production companies: Dexter Studios; CJ E&M
Hangul: 백두산

Peter Ahn

Peter Ahn

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