I saw a trailer (see below) for this movie a while back and have to admit, as much as I look forward to any war movie, I was very skeptical about this one. When a trailer makes the movie bad… (Speaking of trailers, the DVD begins with trailers for FOUR Bruce Willis straight to DVD movies.) Here are the Rotten Tomato ratings on them – 0/6/13/0) Let’s find out if my skepticism was justified.
“Air Strike” (the Chinese title actually translates as “Big Bombing”) is also known as “The Bombing” or “Unbreakable Spirit”. It was directed by Ziao Feng, but more importantly, art directed by Mel Gibson. It was filmed in Shanghai for $65 million dollars, most of which must have gone to Bruce Willis’ salary. A little coinage was thrown Adrien Brody’s way. I’m guessing he was paid a handsome hourly rate for his one minute of air time.
The movie begins in 1937 with China getting its ass kicked by Japanese invaders. The Chinese retreated to the provisional capital of Chongqing which the Japanese were determined to bomb the hell out of. We know this because one minute into the movie, there is a CGI-enhanced bombing of the city. This will not be the last time bombs fall in this movie. Col. Jack Johnson (Willis) plays a military adviser training a Chinese fighter squadron. He must be extremely good because his charges, flying Soviet Polikarpov I-15s (think Brewster Buffaloes), are able to duel with Japanese Zeros. One of the pilots loses his brother, so we have the requisite vengeance-fueled character. The Japanese know he is the one who dropped leaflets over Nagasaki and they are out to get him. For this purpose, an evil Japanese ace is thrown in to hiss at. Stay with me here. Another subplot has another pilot, turned secret agent, trying to get a truck carrying a secret decoder to headquarters. The Japanese air force is also out to get him. You can expect some strafing to go along with all the bombing. The truck agent picks up a woman and four kids and a shady Chinaman. Another female character is a feisty female photojournalist who hooks up with the avenging aviator. The cursory exposition takes place between bombings, dogfights, and truck-trek obstacles.
At this point, you are probably wondering if my review is going to praise the gonzo nature of the film and recommend it as a guilty pleasure or condemn it as a piece of crap. If you predicted choice B, you would be correct. The plot, such as it is, is merely an excuse to chronicle a series of terror bombings. The subplots are silly and include a mahjong tournament! Realism does not apply. Unintentional laughs abound. When the truck’s road is blocked by an unexploded bomb, they get past it by driving on two wheels. At one point, Jackson plots strategy in front of a table-top map with model airplanes on it. This crapfest builds to a crescendo of nonsense with the crash-landing of a P-40 using a truck for landing gear, with Jackson cheering them on. Spoiler alert: there is also a cliff involved. To top that, the movie concludes with a slapstick routine involving another UXB. You’ll finish the movie shaking your head about what you watched and about Bruce Willis’ career.
The discouraging thing about the movie is the Chinese are capable of better (see “Operation Red Sea”), but this movie is made by slackers. The CGI is bad. If you take a drink every time a plane loses a wing, you will be drunk before Bruce Willis takes off with a cigar in his mouth. Which reminds me to mention that Jackson is a besmirching of Claire Chennault. Willis gives a half-ass rendering of whoever he is channeling. He obviously was in it for the pay check. The rest of the cast is mediocre. They are basically there to be bombed, strafed, or shot down.
In its defense, it does not claim to be based on a true story, but it is still sloppy history. The biggest boner is having the Chinese fighters competing with Zeros (which were not in service at the time of the film, by the way) and having any chance whatsoever. The CGI has fighters doing acrobatics that even the Zero could not pull off. Surprisingly, the numerous bombings are fairly accurate because Chongqing was continually bombed from February, 1938 to August, 1943. Most of the bombs were incendiaries, whereas the movie features high explosives, of course. In the first two days of the terror bombing campaign, five thousand civilians were killed. There were a total of 268 raids and it seems like the movie shows all of them.
In conclusion, I mentioned drinking during the movie and that is the only way I can recommend it. Watch “Operation Red Sea” instead. Or any South Korean war movie.
GRADE = D