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‘Born To Fly,’ China’s Answer to ‘Top Gun,’ Crashes Before Takeoff

Starring Wang Yibo, the film about elite test pilots in the People’s Liberation Army was supposed to premiere on September 30. Today, however, its box office debut was canceled

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2:34 PM HKT, Tue September 27, 2022 2 mins read

Highly-anticipated Chinese movie Born to Fly (长空之王), which some have called “China’s own Top Gun,” was supposed to make its box office debut on September 30. Unfortunately for those eagerly awaiting its arrival, though, its release has been shelved, with no word on when — or if — the movie will eventually premiere.

Born to Fly was one of four films slated for release on September 30 — just in time for China’s National Day on October 1.

It is unclear why exactly Born to Fly has been withdrawn from the National Day premiere schedule. However, the cancelation announcement vaguely attributes the film’s scrapped theatrical release to the need to “improve special effects.”

official announcement of born to fly delay

The official announcement of the premiere delay

The film, featuring fighter jets soaring at breakneck speeds, dramatic shots of the sky, and attractive young pilots, is director Liu Xiaoshi’s first major motion picture. Previously, he created promotional material for the Chinese military.

The film zooms in on a group of elite test pilots from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force who have been entrusted with flying the J-20, the most advanced stealth fighter jet in the country.

The main character, Lei Yu, is played by Wang Yibo, an actor and singer who began his career as a member of the K-pop group Uniq.

wang yibo in born to fly

Wang Yibo plays the lead in Born to Fly

In preparation to fly the J-20, Lei and a squadron of other pilots undergo rigorous physical and psychological training. They are led by veteran pilot Captain Zhang Ting, played by actor Hu Jun.

Released in May, Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the 1986 movie Top Gun, also tells the story of a group of young fighter pilots trained by Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise) to carry out a dangerous military strike.

In a 2019 trailer for the film, in anticipation of Top Gun: Maverick’s Chinese release, the Japanese flag was removed from Maverick’s iconic leather jacket (along with the flag of a certain ‘wayward Chinese province’). In the end, however, the film failed to secure an official release in China, a discouraging parallel to the trajectory of Born to Fly.

Perhaps predictably, Born to Fly’s underlying theme of patriotism and heart-stopping airborne stunts gave some netizens reason to compare it — often negatively — to the American blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick.

On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, one netizen called the former “plagiarism,” while another wrote, “Top Gun is an actual modern action movie, but Born to Fly has been turned into sci-fi. The special effects look too lame.”

scene from born to fly

Stills from Born to Fly

However, if early ticket sales were any indication, Chinese moviegoers wanted a taste of the aerial action. Presale tickets were released on Friday, September 23, and in just two hours, the movie’s box office revenue exceeded 2 million RMB (about 281,555 USD).

As of September 27, the film had tallied more than 33.6 million RMB in prerelease ticket sales. These tickets will now be refunded, according to the cancelation announcement.

Many netizens are disappointed and confused by Born to Fly’s abrupt withdrawal, with one writing, “If there’s no Born to Fly, I’m staying at home... there’s no other movie worth watching.” Another called it “a calamity.”

In addition to disappointing fans, Born to Fly’s failure to launch could have a negative impact on China’s overall box office revenue over the upcoming holiday. The other three films scheduled to be released on September 30 — Home Coming, Ordinary Hero, and Steel Will — have only made about 14.5 million RMB in combined prerelease ticket sales.

All images via Weibo

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