REVIEW: ‘Born To Fly’ Doesn’t Separate From The Pack

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Born to Fly — But Why Tho

Flyboys are usually a good subject matter for storytelling or, at the very least, an interesting start. Born To Fly is directed by written by Liu and , and follows a young air force pilot, Lei Yu (Wang Yibo), who is forced to test the capabilities of a top-secret aircraft and his own limits. Lei Yu is plucked from his unit by veteran Zhang Ting (Hu Jun) to join the elite outfit trying to get “limit data” at high altitudes from the new secret stealth planes. Training with and growing close to his new squad and mentor, Lei has to navigate the world as a test pilot and an individual as the film engages with the theme of China’s power being restricted by foreign powers. Which is no different than the plot of most US-based flyboy films.

Born To Fly’s biggest fault is timing. The choice to release so close to Top Gun: Maverick makes the comparisons unavoidable, primarily because of the vast difference in effects work. Where Top Gun embraced the practical, Born To Fly is bogged down in the digital, making the moments when it does embrace practical elements jarring. The fact that the film’s domestic release in China was delayed due to the effects work sadly shows in the final product. That said, where the film stumbles in its visual fidelity, it makes up for it with some great character dynamics and moments of acting from Wang Yibo and the rest of our ensemble cast.

Sure, watching planes be tested and pilots be trained is interesting, but the real reason to watch the film is the way the characters grow together. While military propaganda films (which as a genre, America has released quite a few aviation ones in the last year) often have some large moments of spectacle, they do often excel at showcasing the ways that people grow together. They lean on each other because they need to in order to keep each other safe, but they also grow closer in time as they begin to let each other in through their own vulnerabilities.

Born to Fly — But Why Tho (1)

In Born To Fly, the characters are really the compelling core of the film. This is thanks to a fantastic performance from Wang Yibo that helps keep the audience engaged even when the story falters. Regardless of whether he is in a helmet or not, he’s able to deliver emotion visually and not rely on dialogue. The film is at its best when it’s in the barracks, showing connections between characters built and taking advantage of Wang’s ability to pull out emotion from the scenes he is in that greatly connect him to the world. This is particularly true when it comes to Lei’s relationship with Deng Fang (Yu Yosh). The two of them play off each other brilliantly and have a charisma in their exchanges that works the best out of anything else in the film.

Unfortunately though, Born to Fly still doesn’t manage to connect all of the dots in the narrative. Beyond the CGI effects work, larger themes fall to the wayside to show all the new technological advancements of warfare, and often, the story itself winds up being more muddled for spectacle than woven together with its loud moments. Now, it isn’t void of emotion. It tries hard to make character moments have an impact, and they work most of the time. Still, when they don’t, there is a hollowness to Born To Fly that the film can’t shake off. If you’re aiming for spectacle over story, you have to deliver, and this film doesn’t. Despite a great performance from Wang Yibo, Born To Fly can’t reach a steady altitude.

Born to Fly is in limited theaters now.

Born To Fly
  • 5.5/10
    Rating - 5.5/10


Despite a great performance from Yibo Wang, Born To Fly can’t reach a steady altitude.

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