China, 2011, colour, 1.85:1, 94 mins.
Director: Ning Haiqiang 宁海强.
Well-shot airforce picture has more drama in the skies than on the ground.
China, early 2009. Chief of staff Yue Tianlong (Wang Ban) and PLA Air Force Squadron 903 deputy commander Yin Shuanghu (Li Guangjie) are rival top pilots, and both hope to get the job of squadron commander. During an exercise, Yue Tianlong and Yin Shuanghu are pitted against each other and, by employing the difficult Cobra Manoeuvre, Yin Shuanghu succeeds in locking down Yue Tianlong. However, his plane is affected by a bird strike, so Yue Tianlong gets the top job. After taking up his post, Yue Tianlong proposes Yin Shuanghu heads up a Blue group and he a Red group to carry out combat exercises. Yin Shuanghu has misgivings but is encouraged by the military’s political commissar (Zhu Xinyun). During an exercise, Yue Tianlong’s plane is affected by a bird strike but he responds calmly and manages to land. Yin Shuanghu, who is in charge of averting bird strikes, is disciplined. Unbowed, Yue Tianlong persists in not lowering standards and continues to hold intensive exercises; he further raises the stakes by getting Yin Shuanghu to teach him the Cobra Manoeuvre. Yue Tianlong almost crashes when he goes into a spiral but is saved by Yin Shuanghu’s calmness on the ground. Yue Tianlong finally masters the Cobra Manoeuvre and recommends Yin Shuanghu for promotion. Then, during a battle exercise (codenamed Fierce Dragon) with live ammunition, an unidentified aircraft is detected inside Chinese airspace.
Set during the immediate aftermath of US president Bush’s departure, Sky Fighters 歼十出击 is a clarion call that China has “the final say on the integrity of its skies” – as seen through the competition and eventual friendship between two top pilots who finally combine to take on an unidentified aircraft during a real battle exercise. Similar in tone to, and equally driven by alpha-male rivalry as, gung-ho US movies like Top Gun (1986), the movie features plenty of splendidly staged flying sequences but is much lighter on drama on the ground, with the leads’ other halves thinly integrated into the story.
This being an airforce movie, production qualities are not as lavish as in PLA studio August First’s army spectaculars, and less is at stake in what are mostly training sequences. However, the photography is always crisp and smartly composed, and as the testosterone-fuelled pilots TV actors Li Guangjie 李光洁 (the male lead in the TV drama series A Story of Lala’s Promotion 杜拉拉升职记, 2010) and Wang Ban 王斑 strut their stuff just fine.
The film is also known under the English title Lock Destination.
Presented by August First Film Studio (CN), China National Film Museum (CN), Shanghai Liangqian Cultural Communication CN). Produced by Air Force Political Department of the People’s Liberation Army (CN), Beijing Municipal Committee Publicity Department (CN), August First Film Studio (CN), China National Film Museum (CN), Jiangxi TV Development (CN), Shanghai Liangqian Cultural Communication (CN).
Script: Ma Weigan. Photography: Wang Weidong, Wang Yan. Editing: Zhu Jianlong, Wang Miao. Music: Zhang Wei. Art direction: Wang Gang. Costumes: Wu Jiang. Sound: Wang Lewen, An Shaofeng. Visual effects: Meng Hao.
Cast: Wang Ban (Yue Tianlong), Li Guangjie (Yin Shuanghu), Huang Yi (Liu Qi), Hu Ke (Xi Muyu), Zhu Xinyun (armed forces’ political commissar), Ning Ning (Shangguan Liang), Zhang Ningjiang (Wu Wei), Zhang Yechuan (section head), Yang Xiao (sentinel).
Release: China, 10 Mar 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 15 Mar 2011.)