March 28, 2024

BORN TO FLY: China's Top Gun

BORN TO FLY (Blu-ray)
2023 / 128 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😼

Born to Fly is China’s answer to Top Gun, with a heaping helping of nationalism thrown in for good measure. Let’s not hold the latter against it, since this is far from the first movie to trumpet its own country while vilifying others.

This is most blatantly depicted in the prologue, which has enemy jets buzzing into Chinese territory while deftly dodging China’s outdated aircraft. Though it’s never stated outright, the pilots are obviously Americans, cartoonishly trash-talking the good guys with taunts like “We can come & go whenever we want.” These faceless foes are the closest thing Born to Fly has to antagonists, serving the same narrative purpose as the anonymous “Jerrys” in countless World War II epics. Only there’s no apparent war going on here…just a couple of pilots being dicks.

So it’s a little ironic that the rest of the film liberally cops from one of the most distinctively “American” movies of the last 50 years. Only instead of the best-of-the-best competing for bragging rights, they’re jockeying to be test pilots for stealthy new aircraft that’ll shame their enemies. Born to Fly has its own Maverick in the form of Lei (Wang Yibo), a rebellious hot-shot pilot who goes through the paces of wowing his superiors, getting humbled, doing some soul searching and bouncing back to glory. He’s occasionally thwarted by the movie’s Iceman, Deng Fang (Yu Shi), his biggest rival. In the downtime, there’s even a female doctor who becomes personally invested in Lei (though these two never actually hop in the sack together).

"Dude, where'd you learn to clap?"
The rest of the narrative follows the Top Gun playbook step by step, right down to the climactic aerial showdown with their enemies, who appear to be the same asshole pilots who bullied them in the prologue. Okay, so Born to Fly is laughably derivative…but is it entertaining? Yeah, sometimes. Though one will certainly question these aircraft’s ability to turn on a dime, the flight scenes are generally good and one sequence involving the attempt to land after a bloody bird-strike is fairly suspenseful. The subplot where Lei is attempting to perfect anti-spin parachutes is also kind of interesting. 

Aside from Lei, characterization is minimal and most of the drama outside of the cockpit is uninvolving. Even the pilots’ commander, Zhang (Hu Jun), essentially exists to evoke national pride and create poignancy when he dies. That ain’t really a spoiler, folks. Whenever a movie like this introduces a supporting character’s family, that guy’s a goner. Elsewhere, Born to Fly is at-least a half-hour overlong, but there’s some amusement to be found in its strict adherence to the Top Gun formula (minus a catchy Kenny Loggins tune), along with a few decent action scenes.

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