Film review: Sky Hunter – real-life couple Li Chen, Fan Bingbing in Chinese military propaganda
Little more than a recruitment drive for the Chinese military, Li’s directing debut about hotshot pilots sent to rescue migrant workers relies on copying segments from Top Gun and overuses CGI for its action scenes
Produced with full support from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and crediting dozens of military advisers, Sky Hunter is just the latest slice of Chinese propaganda to glorify the country’s military might. But while it mixes red-blooded jingoism with romance and playful camaraderie in the hope of recapturing Wolf Warrior 2 ’s recent success, the film struggles to take flight.
First-time director and co-scriptwriter Li Chen plays Wu Di, a PLA Air Force pilot who is drafted into the titular elite special ops programme together with childhood sweetheart Yali (played by real-life partner Fan Bingbing). When terrorists in a fictional central Asian country take a group of Chinese migrant workers hostage, Wu advances from hotshot trainee to maverick point man as he sets out to save the day and rescue an old friend.
Right from its opening scene, in which the protagonist intimidates an enemy aircraft by flying inverted above it, the film owes a huge debt to the Tom Cruise action classic Top Gun. Lifting entire sequences throughout the film, Sky Hunter similarly serves as a grand-scale recruitment video for wannabe fighter pilots.
At one point a foreign character questions China’s battle-readiness, considering they haven’t been involved in a war for decades, and Sky Hunter pulsates throughout as if it’s China’s itchy trigger finger.
While Wolf Warrior 2 counterbalanced its ludicrous narrative and shameless jingoism with top drawer action that proved genuinely entertaining, Sky Hunter simply isn’t up to the task. Despite recruiting Hollywood heavyweights such as visual effects supervisor Nathan McGuinness and composer Hans Zimmer, much of the film’s action falls flat.
In large part this is due to its airborne sequences being rendered using CGI. This is particularly disappointing considering the film appears to have had complete cooperation from the PLA, to the extent that the Air Force logo appears at the film’s opening.
But Fan does get to fly a helicopter, so it’s not a complete waste of time for the soon-to-be Mrs Li.
Sky Hunter opens on October 19
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