September 8, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Liu Xiaoshi
Culture Representation: Taking place in China, in 2008,, the action film “Born to Fly” has an all-Chinese cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A hotshot pilot for the Chinese military experiences triumph and tragedy as part of an elite fighter squad.
Culture Audience: “Born to Fly” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of movie’s headliners and films that are inspired by the “Top Gun” movies.
“Born to Fly” goes down a very simplistic and generic path in this often-trite story about fighter pilots. Some of the aerial scenes look good, but when the story is on the ground, much of the dialogue and acting performances are a little cringeworthy. The plot for “Born to Fly” borrows heavily from 1986’s “Top Gun.”
Directed by Liu Xiaoshi and written by Gui Gan, “Born to Fly” (which takes place in 2008) has a main character named Lei Yu (played by Wang Yibo) who is handsome, heroic, and a risk taker in the Chinese military. Some might consider Yu to be a little reckless. Yu is part of an elite squad of young fighter pilots
Early in the movie, Yu is found to be at fault for a speeding mishap when he sought to defend airspace from mischief-making American fighter pilots. His speeding caused his plane to malfunction and forced Yu to make an emergency landing. Yu is reprimanded but he is soon introduced to someone who will become his mentor: commanding officer Zhang Ting (played by Hu Jun), who will be working with this squad to develop the Chengdu J-20 fighter plane at the Flight Test Bureau. Commander Zhang will also be training the squad on how to fly this plane. He makes the recruits repeat: “The last battle is the first battle.”
The other members of the squad are Gao Yingjun (played by Bu Yu); muscular Xia Pengfei (played by Zhai Yujia); Li Xioahang (played by Edwin Liu), who is Pengfei’s wingman; Tong Gan (played by Wang Zichen); friendly Jia Shengli (played by Jeremy Qu); and arrogant Deng Feng (played by Yu Shi). All of them get along with Yu, except for Fang, who is very competitive and wants to be the star of the program. Fang sees Yu, who is new to the program, as Feng’s biggest threat.
In this training program, the pilots are Golden Helmets and Golden Darts as rewards for excelling in certain challenges. In the beginning of the movie, Pengfei has one Golden Helmet and one Golden Dart. Gan has a Golden Dart. Fang has three Golden Helmets. There’s a certain stretch of the movie where Fang and Yu compete to see who can get the most Golden Helmets.
Since “Born to Fly” uses a lot of the same ideas that were in “Top Gun,” it should come as no surprise that one person on this team will die in a plane crash. Fang and Yu, the two rivals, have to learn to put their differences aside to complete a mission in honor of their fallen team member. It’s all so predictable.
And just like in “Top Gun,” a woman who looks very glamorous for the military is part of the story, although she doesn’t get to the biggest scenes with the fighter planes, because she’s a military doctor. Her name is Shen Tianran (played by Zhou Dongyu), and she’s treated like a “token woman” in the movie because her main purpose in “Born to Fly” is to be the potential love interest of the “hero.”
Yu, who has a background in engineering, has a tense relationship with his father (played by Yao Lu) who is very hard to please. (Yu’s parents don’t have names in the movie.) There’s an early scene in the movie where Yu is talking to his mother (played by Jiang Hong Bo) on the phone, and he asks to speak to his father. His father is home but doesn’t want to talk to Yu and tells his wife to lie and tell Yu that he’s not home. Yu’s parents want him to be in the military, but they worry about the deadly risks in his job, and they don’t want him to do anything that would embarrass their family.
That’s why Yu sees Commander Zhang as more than just a mentor. Commander Zhang becomes almost like a father figure to Yu. Commander Zhang invites Yu over to Commander Zhang’s house to meet his wife and children. Yu is welcomed into the home and treated almost like a family member.
Because “Born to Fly” is so formulaic and derivative, there’s hardly any suspense in the movie, although the aerial scenes have a lot of adrenaline-like energy and are filmed from some eye-catching angles. The cast members’ acting isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. Main character Yu is quite generic though and doesn’t do much to stand out from the long list of movies about heroic military fighters
Well Go USA released “Born to Fly” in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023, the same date that it was released in China. UPDATE: “Born to Fly” will be released on digital and Blu-ray on March 26, 2024.