SKY HUNTER (2017) review


Wu Di (Li Chen), Zhao Yali (Fan Bingbing), Gao Yuan (Leon Lee) and few others are the elite of the Chinese air force, and have started training under the strict leadership of flying legend Ling Weifeng (Wang Qianyuan) to be a part of the Sky Hunter task force, when a terrorist organization led by Rahman (Tomer Oz) takes dozens of Chinese citizens hostage in the fictional state of Mahbu, demanding one of theirs be released from prison.  But when the freshly-released terrorist is gunned-down by a vengeful father, it’s left to Wu Di and his comrades to rescue the hostages in a daring attack on the terrorists’ base.

Sky Hunter is cut of the same cloth as Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior franchise: the solo directing debut of an actor casting himself as the valiant yet cheerful hero joining an elite team, a patriotic military action film with the technological support and seal of approval of the People’s Liberation Army, a story of Chinese expatriates in dire straits, rescued from the clutch of evil foreign mercenaries by their country’s army. These similarities are more than simply the sign of an appearing trend bolstered by great box office success; they’re also the trademark of screenwriter Dong Qun, whose only three theatrical credits so far are, you guessed it, the two Wolf Warrior films and Sky Hunter.

Unfortunately, Sky Hunter has more in common with the first than with the second in Wu Jing’s action franchise. Often playing like a recruiting video, it emphasizes the fun times that can be had in the army with plentiful trite banter and even triter flirting, showcases all the breathtaking might of the People’s Liberation Army with loving shots of military hardware and delivers impassioned speeches about the defense of the People’s Republic of China (one such speech, delivered by the great Wang Xueqi in an extended cameo, almost had us checking if, as a French citizen, we can get in the Chinese army). And, again like Wolf Warrior I, its action scenes are simply not entertaining or intense enough to justify sticking through the heavy-handed propaganda. Its aerial ballets are mostly well-rendered with a mix of passable CGI (though there area a handful cringeworthy moments) and real acrobatic flying, but their unfolding is rarely clear enough to create excitement. A more satisfying infiltration and bombing scene at the end has more tension, but it’s too little too late.

And this is a film inhabited by characters so uniformly, perfectly heroic that it’s hard to care much. Li Chen is likable enough, but low on charisma and even lower on chemistry with his real-life betrothed Fan Bingbing, here consistently sidelined much in the way Yu Nan was in Wolf Warrior. Screenwriter Dong Qun doesn’t exactly know what to do with his female characters. Wang Qianyuan, as a heroic training officer and Wu Xiubo as a heroic training officer turned heroic drone pilot, add some pleasant star power but have roles so thinly written, you can guess they took them out of a sense of friendly obligation or civic duty, or both (and Deng Chao pops in for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). And on the evil side, Sky Hunter doesn’t have a Scott Adkins or a Frank Grillo to hiss at; frequent Jackie Chan collaborator Tomer Oz does what he can with his generic crazy-eyed terrorist character, and is surrounded by stereotypical mercenary henchmen (the hulking meathead, the slinky female…). It’s hard to cheer for the Chinese army when its adversaries are so unintimidating.

Long Story Short: Sky Hunter is a rather dull slice of militaristic propaganda, its few pleasures a handful of star cameos and a passable final action scene. **

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  1. S.W.A.T. (2019) review | Asian Film Strike

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