PLA Air Force film ‘Sky Hunter’ demonstrates China’s growing military confidence

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/14 18:28:39


Sky Hunter director and lead actor Li Chen (center) takes a selfie with his co-stars Li Chenhao (left) and Zhao Da. Photo: Li Hao/GT


With the recent rise in military films and dramas, as well as the incredible success of military action film Wolf Warrior 2, it seems that the Chinese military has been growing more open and confident about being in the public eye. 

Sky Hunter, an upcoming military action flick, is the latest example of this growing confidence.

Staring popular stars such as Li Chen and Fan Bingbing and veteran actors like Wang Qianyuan and Wang Xueqi, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force film revolves around the story of Chinese pilots stationed at a top secret base and their aerial battles with foreign terrorists.

Sneak peek

Set for nationwide release in China on September 30, the beginning of the annual seven-day-long National Holiday, the film was screened early for a few PLA Air Force airmen, students and media outlets on Wednesday at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA).

"I am a fan of the military and am very fond of military films and TV dramas," Li Chen, who is also the director of the film, told the crowd after the screening.

He added that he had learned quite a bit after interviewing pilots and researching the military in preparation for the film.

While reviews of the film will have to wait until it hits theaters, reactions from the audience on Wednesday were very positive.

A pilot cadet remarked at the event that he felt fear at the thought of being a pilot after watching war film Pearl Harbor, but his reaction after watching Sky Hunter was quite the opposite. 

"I can't hold in my excitement after watching Sky Hunter," the cadet said, adding that it reminded him of the times he has seen fighter jet performances at air shows.

"I didn't know much back then, so I thought they were nothing but beautiful aerial performances, but later on I came to realize that they were all strategies that could be applied during real battles," he noted.

Wednesday was the first time that Yan Feng, a fighter jet pilot and military adviser on the film, had seen the movie in its completed form.

Praising the film as "authentic" and "elaborate," Yan said that the feeling he had watching the film was "almost the same" as the feeling he gets when piloting a jet through the sky. He added that the story is down-to-earth and does an excellent job of portraying real life in the PLA Air Force. 

Sharing stories

The first film exploring modern air battles in China, Sky Hunter, however, is not the first Chinese film or TV drama to see direct participation by the military, which has long remained a somewhat mysterious organization to the public. 

For example, summer TV drama Shenhai Lijian (Sharp Sword in the Deep Sea) was co-produced by the PLA Navy, which is also behind the upcoming film Operation Red Sea.

However, while Shenhai Lijian and Operation Red Sea were directed by veteran filmmakers and producers Zhao Baogang and Dante Lam respectively, Sky Hunter marked Li's first time in the director's chair on a feature film.

Zhang Li, one of the producers and scriptwriters for Sky Hunter as well as an officer in the PLA Air Force, said that he wasn't worried about Li's lack of experience since the film deals with a "brand new" theme.

"As such, no one in the mainland has any experience in this area. Even some well-known filmmakers from Hong Kong have no experience in this area."

Li's interest in the military and willingness to carry out research therefore made him a great choice for director. 

"We both wanted to present something different from previous military films, such as portray realistic aerial battles, show off the latest arms and equipment and demonstrate the readiness of today's airmen," Zhang said, explaining that previous Chinese military films have mainly dealt with historical stories.

Zhang added that around a dozen of military, foreign affairs and diplomatic experts also served as advisers on the new film, while the film's score is from Oscar-winning and Grammy-nominated musician Hans Zimmer.

Speaking about the Chinese military's current proactive stance in presenting their stories and in service weapons and equipment in films and TV dramas, Zhang said that this "is part of a very natural process, since the Chinese military is becoming more confident, accessible and open to cooperation."

As for the Chinese Air Force, Zhang explained that "since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, the PLA Air Force has seen tremendous improvement when it comes to armament, actual combat ability, management and quality of its  airmen."

"We hope that we can share our stories and achievements with the public, especially youngsters, through public art works such as films," Zhang said, noting that the PLA Air Force does not belong to itself, but to the Chinese people.

Newspaper headline: Ready for takeoff

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