Director: Liu Xiaoshi
Cast: Wang Yibo, Hu Jun, Yu Shi, Zhou Dongyu
Runtime: 2 hr 7 mins
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 4 May 2023
Synopsis: Talented pilot LEI Yu (WANG Yibo) has been rigorously selected as the new generation of test pilots. He will be trained under the leadership of captain ZHANG Ting (HU Jun) testing the most advanced fighter jets and pushing himself past the limits, which he gains resilience in the face of adversity.
In the real world, China has been rubbing shoulders with every foreign nations out there, unfortunately in the wrong way as we speak. Squabbles over trade and Taiwan issues with the US, getting comfortable with Russia and resorting to making an assuring phone call to the Ukrainian President, China is no doubt making its presence felt as a “responsible major country”.
On the cinematic spectrum, China is not losing to its biggest competitor either that they are coming up with their own version of last year’s top grossing hit, Top Gun: Maverick since the latter was not shown in the People’s Republic. Originally scheduled to premiere in October last year but pulled in the last minute, Born to Fly has finally landed on our shore and is it yet another propagandistic title or a chance to give Cruise and company a run for their money?
If you can look past the flimsy prologue which details two unnamed enemies plans intruding into China’s airspace then you will certainly find Born to Fly worthy of your time despite the patriotic plotting. Popstar Wang Yibo stars as Lei Yu, a hotshot pilot who is recruited by a certain Commander Zhang (Hu Jun) to train as part of a squadron to test an up-and-coming, technologically advanced Made In China stealth fighter. As expected, Lei not only has to face a stronger competitor, Deng Fang (Yu Shi) but also his stubbornness to test every equipment to the limit which results him being grounded and reassign to pack and rollup parachutes with the ground crew.
You can breathe a huge sigh of relief when Born to Fly takes a different form of approach instead of plainly being a glorified air force commercial. Taking its time to craft a story which details the hardship and sacrifice of the numerous unknown individuals who got KIA during the course of testing the new generation of fighter jets for the next batch of pilots, the narrative is surprisingly emotionally moving and the topic treated with both respect and restraint.
Whether you believe it or not, the story paints the China military as an underdog. Without the cooperation from the West, most of their military gadgets, vehicles and jets are built by their very own engineers, mechanics and their own pilots have to risk their lives testing their functionality on the field. Born to Fly in many ways work as a major tribute to their trials and tribulations behind-the-scenes.
Of course, the movie won’t be that meaningful if you see Lei packing parachutes for the rest of the running time. Thus given his enthusiasm and knowledge, he is brought back to the team to work on the technical aspects of the stealth fighter with the rest of the engineers shortly after a flying test went south. Being the only (or second) female presence, Zhou Dongyu (Better Days, Under the Hawthorn Tree) cameos as Dr Shen, the love interest of Lei.
While there are aerial dogfights in the beginning and last act of the movie, fortunately it is also not a movie that is filled with lots of empty CGI spectacles. Still, we must also emphasised the technical aspects are certainly remarkably displayed here. All in all, the message behind the movie is well-executed and goes deeper than just visuals. Although there’s snippets of propaganda and simplistic writings, Born to Fly is genuinely well-done instead of being a Maverick copycat.
(A surprisingly well-made aviation drama that takes you up the sky!)
Review by Linus Tee