China air force, not Fan Bingbing, the star of Sky Hunter

Fan Bingbing stars as an elite pilot in Sky Hunter.
Fan Bingbing stars as an elite pilot in Sky Hunter. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / ACTION DRAMA

SKY HUNTER

116 minutes/Opens tomorrow

2.5/5 stars

The story: Chinese air force pilot Hao Chen (Li Jiahang), along with a group of other Chinese citizens, have been captured by rogue soldiers hailing from the fictitious country of Mahbu. Hao Chen's elite pilot friends such as Wu Di (Li Chen) and Ya Li (Fan Bingbing) go to their rescue.

Chinese A-lister Fan Bingbing is heavily marketed as the marquee star here, but her role is constantly overshadowed by the real star of the show - the Chinese air force.

Everything about the film, which actor-director Li made in collaboration with the People's Liberation Army, seems to be a thinly disguised showcase of China's military might in the skies.

Besides the typical Top Gun-style dogfight scenes featured in such films, which have state-of-the-art Chinese jets doing fanciful tricks here, there is also plenty of macho talk among the pilots, who constantly pledge their undying allegiance to their country.

Obviously, no one from the Chinese army can possibly be at all villainous, so any rebel behaviour is left to a group of rogue soldiers hailing from a made-up country.

And when the Mahbu government fails spectacularly at a hostage rescue mission, who is there to save the day? The Chinese military, of course.

Lack of subtleties aside, the technical aspects of the film are competent - evidence of China's everimproving film-making capabilities.

That should worry Hollywood movie executives hoping to snag a slice of the massive Chinese boxoffice pie, especially given how phenomenally well Wolf Warrior 2, another patriotic Chinese military film, has done in recent months.

Outside of China, audience interest in this will probably be more limited.

The story lacks tension and fans wishing to see a steamy onscreen romance between Fan and her real-life fiance, actor-director Li Chen, will be greatly disappointed. At most, they share an awkward hug.

After all, the greater love affair here is between the Chinese people and their army.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese air force takes to the skies'. Print Edition | Subscribe