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As far as exciting arial battles go Born to Fly doesn’t hold a candle to Top Gun, but the movie makes up for that with a familiar yet surprisingly fun story and over-the-top Chinese patriotism.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case Top Gun and its sequel can feel pretty great about Born to Fly, the recent Chinese box office phenomenon that takes more than one page out of those movies' books and seasons it with some gung-ho Chinese military propaganda.

The tale sees young pilot Lei Yu try to claim his place among the country's aviation elite as the government starts a new fighter jet program designed to keep up with more advanced Western aircraft. With plenty of failures along the way Lei Yu is on the brink of throwing in the towel until the guidance of a seasoned pro helps him become the pilot he always knew he could be.

Yes, that does indeed sound like a plot that could have been written by an AI-programme (and for all we know, it might partly have been) but because Born to Fly does exactly what it says on the tin, the picture is a surprisingly smooth and fun ride, from the internal tensions in the flying squad to the family story that forms the movie's emotional backbone.

Intriguingly it's the arial footage that lets Born to Fly down the most. Compare the heavily CGI-manufactured fighter jet visuals here with the exciting practical effects of Top Gun: Maverick and the movie comes off exactly as it sounds: a cheap Chinese imitation.

Still, for the best part of two hours I had a fun time with Born to Fly, even if the coda that blatantly plays into China's perception as a superior military nation ends the the film on an unintentional hilariously campy note.

release: 2023

director: Xiaoshi Liu

starring: Yibo Wang, Jun Hu, Yosh Yu, Dongyu Zhou


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