Chinese sci-fi blockbuster ‘The Wandering Earth’ catches audiences at home and abroad in its gravitational pull

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/13 18:23:40

Promotional material for The Wandering Earth Photo: VCG

Chinese director Frant Gwo Photo: Li Hao/GT

New sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth had gained a lot of attention from Chinese media and audiences long before its premiere in the Chinese mainland on February 5 as it is an adaptation of Hugo Award winning sci-fi writer Liu Cixin's novel of the same name and stars Wu Jing, the actor/director behind patriotic mega-hit Wolf Warrior 2.  

This combination paid off. The film earned 2 billion yuan ($294.7 million) during the course of the seven-day Spring Festival holiday period and sparked numerous reviews concerning its special effects and futuristic plot. Even though major film critics have said the film's special effects and core storyline are passable for first try out for a Chinese sci-fi blockbuster and the film has a 7.9/10 on Chinese media review site Douban, notably there are reviewers who have given the film a thumbs down after finding it extremely disappointing.  

Outside of China, even though the film's director Frant Gwo told the Global Times that the sci-fi movie was made for Chinese audiences and he didn't expect it to find an audience overseas, The Wandering Earth actually also earned a 7.9 /10 on film site IMDb after it began a limited release in the US on Friday.

Good effects, questionable science

The film takes place during a time when the Sun is slowly becoming a deadly red giant. To prevent the Earth from burning up along with the other planets, the nations of the world come together to build huge engines that will propel the planet to another solar system. During the journey, humanity moves underground as the surface of the planet freezes over. Tired of living underground and annoyed with his astronaut father Liu Peiqiang (Wu), car mechanic Liu Qi sneaks out of one of the underground bunkers with his adopted sister to explore the surface. Right at this time, the planet gets caught up in the gravitational pull of Jupiter and it is up to Liu, his companions and his father to save humanity by finding a way to destroy Jupiter. 

Natural for any sci-fi blockbuster set in space, the film has some amazing visual effects. 

"It's the summation of Chinese film history in terms of visual effects and technology used in this film," netizen Frozenmoon posted in a review on Douban. According to Gwo, three quarters of the VFX were completed by Chinese teams. 

Even foreign media and reviewers have applauded these visuals. The New York Times said: "The special effects - like the apocalyptic climatic changes that would occur if Earth suddenly moved out of its cozy orbit - are certain to be measured against Hollywood's." 

On IMBd, netizen Health-jeffrey commented that "the movie is groundbreaking for China in that the special effects are impressive and that it shows they can do sci-fi in design."

However, some Chinese and overseas moviegoers have questioned the blockbuster's scientific basis. For example, some netizens wondered how it was possible for the planet to maintain a stable atmosphere since it stopped rotating as it sails through space. One overseas netizen named BasicLogic called the concept childish and showed "the shallowness of the Chinese movie industry." 

China's turn to save the world

Gwo told the Global Times that he was initially fascinated by the idea of humanity bringing the Earth along with them as they leave the solar system to sail to a new home. In his opinion, this part of the story has firm roots in traditional Chinese culture. 

On streaming site Bilibili, netizen Hymn to the Evil echoed the director's thoughts, noting that the close relationship of land and home in China, a traditionally agricultural society, can help explain why a Chinese writer would come up with the idea of escaping the destruction of the solar system by bringing Earth along. Gwo said he feels this cultural core on display in The Wandering Earth is what sets it apart from Western movies involving saving our planet. 

This display of Chinese culture has been seen as one of the strengths of the film overseas. 

"I don't like the movie much because there wasn't a single character I could relate to or admire. But think of it as a cultural exchange mission," US netizen Calvin Powers tweeted. 

While Hollywood has long had movies that depict US characters saving the world and being the big hero, this has only recently been the case in China. The most recent and most successful example was 2017's Wolf Warrior 2, which Wu also directed and played the main star. Earning more than $800 million, the film is the highest-earning film in China and the second-highest earning film in a single market behind Hollywood's Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Now it seems that Wu will have another major success under his belt as Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan is predicting that The Wandering Earth, which has earned 2.66 billion yuan as of Wednesday, will earn 5 billion yuan in just the Chinese mainland by the time its run ends. 

This patriotic focus hasn't seemed to be a deterrent for overseas critics as Forbes noted that the film is "patriotic without being sensationally nationalistic." 

Newspaper headline: A new hero

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