China gets its answer to 'Top Gun' with latest patriotic blockbuster 'Sky Hunter'

A publicity still from China's air-combat thriller Sky Hunter, which releases on Friday.

Story highlights

  • First Chinese movie made in collaboration with the military
  • Analyst says it's aimed at provoking national pride

Beijing (CNN)October 1 marks the start of China's week-long national holiday.

It's a time of patriotic fervor akin to July 4 celebrations in the US and that zeal is also on display at the box office.
    This year, "Sky Hunter," a homegrown action thriller made in collaboration with the People's Liberation Army Air Force looks set to become China's very own "Top Gun."
    China's J-20 stealth fighter is featured in the new movie.
    It's the latest in a string of patriotic films that have hit Chinese movie theaters, riding an apparent upsurge in national pride under President Xi Jinping, who marks five years in power next month.
    The military allowed film crew to access its bases for the first time.
    For the first time, the military gave film crew access to several bases, allowed PLA fighter pilots to perform aerobatics in the movie and provided military experts to advise on the script.
    On top of that, some of China's newest military aircraft -- the J-20 stealth fighter, the Y-20 transport plane, the J-11 jet fighter and the H-6 bomber -- appear in the movie, which releases Saturday.
    It's the first Chinese movie that faithfully depicts modern aerial warfare, says Lu Jianmin, the movie's producer.

    Elite soldiers

    The plot centers on an elite group of Chinese soldiers that thwart a terrorist plot and resolve a hostage crisis.
    And if the jets and aerial dog fights aren't enough, it also features Fan Bingbing, one of China's most famous actresses in a lead role as PLA pilot "Yali".
    "It's impossible for the air force in any other country to work as closely with movie making as this one," said Chinese film producer and critic Guan Yadi, who watched an early screening of the movie.
    "Not even Hollywood," he said.
    Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.
    However, military analysts remain skeptical as to whether the movie will really reveal much, if anything, about the inside workings of the Chinese military.
    "I doubt that the movie will show audiences anything genuinely critical about the military equipment -- the state guards those secrets too closely and has too much influence over the domestic film industry to let that kind of information out," said Yvonne Chiu, an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Hong Kong and a visiting scholar at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study.
    "The appearances of these aircraft will be just for promotional purposes."
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    The movie also features music from Hans Zimmer, Hollywood's master score composer and Pixomondo, the visual effects company that brought to life the dragons in "Game of Thrones."
    It's not Lu's first patriotic blockbuster. He also made "Wolf Warrior 2," which set a new domestic box office record, smashing the $760m domestic gross set by James Cameron's "Avatar."
    It's not clear yet how "Sky Hunter" will do at the box office, however. Some movie fans have expressed doubt online, fearing the production exploits patriotic nationalism and lacks genuine substance.
    Chiu said the movie was part of a wider move to celebrate the technological advancement of the Chinese military -- it follows the promotion of China's first aircraft carrier and other new weaponry with prominent port calls and military parades.
    "I suspect that this effort is aimed mostly at invoking the nationalistic pride of the domestic audience," said Chiu.