Mission aborted: why ‘Top Gun’ didn’t take off in China

The country’s most daring and promising young fighter pilot takes part in a top-secret test program for the Army’s most advanced combat aircraft. Logline look familiar? With exciting young Chinese pilots and heart-stopping aerial acrobatics, Born to fly That was supposed to be China’s response Top Gun: Maverick. The highly anticipated flick stars pop star-turned-actor Wang Yibo (think Chinese style Harry), written and directed by Liu Xiaoshi, who has made popular promotional videos for the Chinese military. Produced in full cooperation with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force – to the extent Maverick Was with the US Navy – The film shows China’s most advanced stealth fighter jet, the J-20.

so when Born to fly Originally set to be officially launched on September 30, the day before the Chinese National Day holiday, many analysts were optimistic about the prospects for a head start following in the footsteps of Warrior wolf 2 (2017, $870 million) and The battle at Changjin Lake (2021, 902 million dollars) to become the largest national military strike that China is proud of.

But Born to fly It was mysteriously grounded just days before its planned opening. The film’s producers, including major studios Alibaba Pictures and Bona Film Group, issued a vague statement saying that the release would be delayed “in order to bring better production effects”. No further details were provided and no update was provided.

There was a time when Maverick himself was actually expected to cruise through Chinese airspace. In 2019, Chinese tech giant Tencent spent tens of millions of dollars buying a 12.5 percent stake in Skydance and Paramount’s The best sequel (budget $170 million, not including marketing). But Tencent soon pulled its investment in Top Gun 2 —because he was afraid of angering the Communist Party leadership by backing a film that openly celebrates the prowess of the US military, according to sources in the Chinese film industry.

Top Gun: Maverick It didn’t receive any permission to release it in China, but it more than fine at the global box office anyway, grossing just shy of $1.5 billion — the most of any movie in 2022 so far.

So what happened to China’s response to Maverick?

Chinese authorities never comment directly on censorship decisions, but the word in Beijing’s film industry is just that Born to flyThe producers were made to realize that the stunts and effects of their films were far inferior Top Gun: Mavericks and that the Chinese version is vulnerable to ridicule by comparison — all of which would be unwelcome, even politically dangerous, given that the two films are, in part, propaganda displays of US and Chinese military might. Some have seen it in China Born to fly He has said that the film disappointed the Chinese Air Force with both its perceived shabbyness and its misrepresentation of the home-made J-20 proudly as a “fourth generation” stealth fighter, rather than as, properly, a more advanced fifth generation aircraft of its kind. Most important of all, the original timing of the film’s disappointing Chinese release – on September 30 – could not have been more precarious, coming just two weeks before the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, during which Xi Jinping was anointed with an indefinite third term. preceded as the leader of China. It was a moment of historic political sensitivity in the country, a time when the party leadership could not bear any embarrassment.

Now the most serious political risks have been avoided, perhaps Born to fly Ultimately in 2023, after some overdubbed dialogue and improvements to the film’s visual effects?

“Nobody knows,” says a source close to the project in Beijing. “Alibaba is waiting for the go-ahead from the Film Bureau to set a new release date. It could come at any time, or it might not come at all.”

This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.

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