The Climbers (攀登者) (2019) – Review

The Low-Down: The Climbers is a recount of the Chinese National Mountaineering Team (CNMT)’s expeditions to Qomolangma (Tibetan for Mount Everest) in 1960 and 1975, during the periods where China’s strength was doubted by other countries and the Chinese themselves. It’s a rather effective nationalist movie filled with patriotic pride — it premiered a day before China’s National Day — but falls flat on every other front, especially its cheesy and cringy melodramatic subplots.

The Story: In 1960, the CNMT attempts to summit Qomolangma but an avalanche wiped out all except Wuzhou (Wu Jing), Songlin (Zhang Yi) and Jiebu (Lop) to complete the mission. However, they lost the camera during the avalanche and their efforts came to naught because of the lack of photographic evidence. Fast forward 15 years later, the three reunite and gathered a new and young squad. Wuzhou’s long lost lover Ying (Zhang Ziyi) is now the head of the national meteorological team, there to support Wuzhou’s mountaineering squad up the deadly mountain once again to do China proud.

The Good: Any time the climbers face danger in the form of falling boulders, slipping off, or extreme wind, the suspense and terror are riveting to the point your limps might feel soft. Director Lee and crew make good use of close-ups and tight editing to achieve the intensity you would expect of a movie about conquering the world’s deadliest mountain. The decision to cast a few Tibetan (and other states) stars makes the nationalist aspect all the more inclusive and true to the movie’s message.

The Not-So-Good: From sketchy and amateurish visual effects to exaggerated danger setpieces, The Climbers suffer from quite a number of technical missteps. Whenever a character is superimposed over the tall heights, it looks like as if the movie added those scenes in for the sake of it. Most of all, the melodramatic romance between Wuzhou and Ying is clichéd and soapy at best and uninteresting and cringy at worst — it feels like scenes extracted from soap operas of the 1970s.

Chinese Pride: To say The Climbers is an in-your-face tribute to China’s 70th birthday is an understatement. Throughout the movie are forced and awkward words of patriotism delivered in an overly zealous tone. It’s another movie with a nationalist message presented in the perspective of patriots but not adapted for mainstream moviegoers to relate with. And the movie suffers because of that.

Star-studded Cast: Wu (Wolf Warrior () Franchise) and Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏), Godzilla: King Of The Monsters), Zhang Yi (Operation Red Sea (海行)) among a few more do their best to bolster their flat characters but ultimately, they are forgettable. If only the crew used more showing and less telling through the interactions during the ascent. What’s funny is even a two-minute Jackie Chan cameo is thrown in for (not so) good measure.

Recommended? No, unless you can forgive an overall bad film for its meaningful message (to the Chinese) and gripping action moments. The Climber does have its moments that can wow viewers — scenic landscape shots and amazing tense sequences. Go in without high expectation and you might just find it passable.  

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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