So bombastic and old-fashioned that it flirts with self-parody, “Soar Into the Sun” reps South Korea’s answer to “Top Gun,” stuffed as it is with bromides about character and nation building in the air force. Helmer Kim Dong-won moves clumsily between lame wisecracks and strident sentimentality, then proceeds to whip up an anti-North Korean frenzy; meanwhile, aviation geeks will gasp at the magnificent aerial cinematography, which stands on its own as a sensory treat. Although it underperformed domestically, the pic has secured worldwide sales, and having pan-Asian pop idol Rain aboard guarantees a safe B.O. landing in that region.
Anyone who’s seen “Top Gun” should know what to expect from Ahn Sang-hoon and Kim’s rote screenplay, supposedly inspired by “Red Scarf,” a 1964 war film helmed by Korean master Shin Sang-ok. Jang Tae-hun (Rain), the youngest pilot on the South Korean Air Force’s elite Black Eagles squad, is transferred to the 21 Combat Unit as punishment for a gaffe. As is customary for the genre, there’s the requisite goofing off with the boys and putting the uppity femme flyers in their place. Then Jang steps up for an air duel with Major Lee Chol-hui (Yoo Jun-sang), the emotionally constipated disciplinarian raring to make a man out of his rebellious charge.
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For a love interest, there’s tetchy Sgt. Yu Se-yeong (Shin Se-kyung, nondescript), a failed pilot resigned to a lifetime of aircraft maintenance. Another subplot has Jang’s fellow pilot Yu-jin (Lee Ha-na) courting their unit leader, strong, silent type Dae-seo (Kim Sung-soo, square), by serving as his volunteer housekeeper and nanny to his cute son.
The pic kicks off with a spectacular airshow but then goes nowhere for a 40-minute stretch during which the characters never stop gabbing. Attempts to stoke some heat between Jang and Yu, such as a scene in which he tries to get her drunk, only confirm that this buddy movie doesn’t have a clue what to do with its women characters.
By contrast, Kim and his technical team know exactly what do with their planes, making use of an imperssive fleet of fighter jets on loan from the air force. On a purely cinematic level, the aerial shots are breathtaking, especially when viewed on the bigscreen; the swooping cinematography offers viewers the sensation of being airborne, and one especially spectacular sequence incorporates panoramic views of Seoul.
In contrast with Hollywood’s current ambivalence about villainizing a particular race, this pic has no qualms about demonizing its protags’ North Korean neighbors. Thus, the script concocts a far-fetched conspiracy in order to have Jang face off against not only enemy jets but intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korean generals invariably appear in distorted closeup, framed against hellish-looking red backdrops.
Perfs are unremarkable. The only outstanding turn comes from Lee Jong-seok, who plays a squeamish rookie with enough boyish sweetness to justify the film’s climactic rescue mission. Rain’s fans may be disappointed to see his face half-hidden behind a flying helmet, though the filmmakers compensate with a ludicrous locker-room brawl that allows him to theatrically rip off his shirt.
Tech credits for the earthbound scenes are only middling, with perfunctory attention paid to art direction, sets and lighting. Sound levels are Krakatoan, while the nonstop music is energized by a lively hip-hop beat. Pic’s original/alternate title is “R2B: Return to Base.”