International actors in ‘The Wandering Earth II’ amazed by Chinese story about family, homeland, unity
A shared memory
Published: Feb 28, 2023 09:51 PM
Vitalii Makarychev, who played Russian pilot Andrey Galaktionov in <em>The Wandering Earth II</em> Photo: Courtesy of the China Film Group Corporation

Vitalii Makarychev, who played Russian pilot Andrey Galaktionov in The Wandering Earth II Photo: Courtesy of the China Film Group Corporation

Editor's Note: 

With the internationalization of the ­Chinese films, more faces from other countries are appearing in the industry. This can be seen in the hit sci-fi ­blockbuster The Wandering Earth II

The film has appealed to Chinese moviegoers with its splendid visuals and story. It has also made history for the large number of foreign actors in the cast. The film's director Guo Fan once told the Global Times that 20,000 foreign actors appear in the film. 

Their contributions to the success of the box-office hit is worth remembering. The Global Times talked with three of the foreign actors with major parts in the film, who shared their interesting stories about pursuing their acting dreams in China and their understanding of the concept of "a global community of shared future" that is conveyed in the film.

Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth II has been in Chinese mainland theaters for more than a month now, but Russian actor Vitalii Makarychev, who played Russian pilot Andrey ­Galaktionov in the film, still hasn't had the chance of watching the movie due to his expired visa.

"I cannot wait to rush into the theater once I return to China," Makarychev, who is staying in Thailand, told the Global Times.

The sci-fi blockbuster has grossed 3.93 ­billion yuan ($566 million) at the mainland box ­office, entering the top-10 list of highest grossing films in China. It has also performed well after its release in North America and Europe.

According to box-office tracker Box Office Mojo, The Wandering Earth II ranked at No.10 on North America's weekend box-office chart in late January. It has earned over $4 million so far in the region. In the European market, after the film was released in 58 theaters in the UK and Ireland, the box office reached $345,000 in its opening weekend, achieving the best performance for a Chinese-language film in the region in the past 15 years.

From The Wandering Earth four years ago to this prequel, director Guo Fan always hopes his audience remember that because of nostalgia for the homeland and hometown, we don't escape from Earth in a spaceship when facing such a crisis, but choose to wander with the planet. 

The movie also digs out the inner world of the characters, expressing their importance to family and longing for their loved ones, which is deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

Acting dream

After the film hit big screens in China, some foreign actors such as Makarychev won over Chinese moviegoers with their amazing acting. Starring in the film has helped them better understand the Chinese romance and culture conveyed in it.

Makarychev himself went viral on Chinese social media since he used to teach basketball in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, back in 2020 - a fact that surprised many moviegoers. 

Makarychev fell in love with China immediately after his first trip to the country in 2011. In 2019, he decided to come to China and stay for a little longer. One of his goals at the time was to find a job in China for his older son, who was studying at the Moscow School of Contemporary Art and dreamed of becoming an actor. Surprisingly enough, Makarychev ended up starting his acting career in China before his son, even though that was never his main goal.

Makarychev explained that the surname of his role "Galaktionov" has a "special meaning for Russians," because the word comes from the name "Galaktion" of ancient Greek origin, which means "galaxy."

He thanked Chinese audiences for their positive reaction, adding that he cannot wait to come back to China as soon as possible. 

"I am ready to try more roles once I am back," he said.

Kawawa Kadichi (center), whoplayed Herbert

Kawawa Kadichi (center), who played Herbert

The 'medical insurance bro'

Unlike Makarychev, Zambian actor Kawawa Kadichi, who played Herbert, the colleague of Liu Peiqiang (played by Chinese kung fu veteran Wu Jing), told the Global Times that he has watched the film five times. The actor expressed his excitement about the fact that every time he watches the film, he is amazed by all the new details he notices.

"This role [Herbert] is one of the funniest parts in the movie. I later got the nickname 'medical insurance bro' from my friends," Kadichi said, laughing.

Kadichi described his experience filming the movie as a fantastic adventure, especially because Wu was his idol.

"When I received the phone call from my friend who had asked me to audition for a film starring Wu Jing and Andy Lau, I thought he was just joking because he knew it was my lifelong dream to be in a movie with my idols," he said, adding that he really enjoyed Wu's movies Wolf Warriors 2 and The Battle at Lake Changjin.

He recalled he couldn't believe that the character he was playing would be the best buddy of Wu's role and that he was extremely nervous when he first met Wu. After gradually getting used to his idol's presence while working with Wu, Kadichi said he gained a lot of precious acting experience under Wu's guidance.

After graduating from Xidian University, in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province in 2018, Kadichi stared to pursue his acting dreams in China. He once starred in Chinese dramas like Ebola Fighters and some online films, but he noted that the shooting experience on The Wandering Earth II was unlike any other.

The striking sets and props left a deep impression on him. While Kadichi originally thought that props like the space suits may have been bought from somewhere, he later learned that they had actually been designed and produced by the crew from scratch. If any props had a problem or got damaged, they would replace it with a new one immediately. 

"It was just amazing that you could see how they were taking something apart, putting it back together and it just changes its form."

He also recalled an incident that happened during "very real" filming on location one time.

"I remember there was a scene where we were launching into space. One of the directors told me to just act as if everything was shaking, and when he said '3-2-1,' the whole platform started shaking for real. It really scared me, but I had to keep my cool," he said.

In another part of the story, the space elevator comes crashing down and everybody runs up and down on the field. Everything was so real that he thought the people who were screaming were actually doing it for real instead of just acting. 

"This whole setup makes you feel like the whole thing is really happening. Even if you are a professional actor, you would really be scared if you had to act in this kind of environment," he said.

Andy Friend (left), who played the US Ambassador to the UN  Photo: Courtesy of the China Film Group Corporation

Andy Friend (left), who played the US Ambassador to the UN Photo: Courtesy of the China Film Group Corporation

US actor Andy Friend, who played the US Ambassador to the United Nations, had a similar opinion. 

Even though he has worked in the Chinese film industry since the 1980s and has starred in several Chinese films in recent years, Friend recalled that he was amazed when he entered the fake Hall of the United Nations. 

"The production design was very, very impressive compared to the real UN that I visited two years ago," Friend told the Global Times. 

"There were over 800 people from different countries, so it ­really looked like the real UN ­General Assembly. I became quite nervous because I had to make a speech as the ambassador in front of so many UN ­delegates from all over the world. The scale of the ­production was very impressive." 

While he too was astonished by the detailed props on set, what impressed Makarychev the most was the professionalism of the cast and crew.

For example, when talking about Chinese actor Sha Yi, whose plays Zhang Peng, a good friend of Makarychev's character in the movie, the Russian actor commended his Chinese counterpart's great acting. 

"His parts could normally be finished in one or two takes," said Makarychev.

As for the director of the movie Guo Fan, Makarychev called him a "hard-worker" who slept only two or three hours each day so that he could participate in the shoot as much as possible. 

"It was hard to find him on set because he was always in the center of everything. He talks to everyone and offers advice," Makarychev said.

Guo once told the Global Times in a previous interview that about 20,000 foreign actors took part in the film, most of them appearing in the scene at the UN. The crew fully prepared everything including their national costumes and had dedicated translation teams on site.

"Due to language barriers, the scene was very complicated. My instructions had to be translated into five or six languages," Guo said.

A foreign actor in <em>The Wandering Earth II</em> Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

A foreign actor in The Wandering Earth II Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

United to save Earth

After debuting theaters in North America, the UK, New Zealand and Australia, The Wandering Earth II is scheduled to hit theaters in South Africa in March and Russia in April. 

"I hope that people from the film industries of both countries will pay attention to each other and start working on joint projects. This should become a constant process. And then maybe several films of excellent quality will be made a year with a joint cast from Russia and China," said Makarychev.

The three foreign actors expressed confidence that China's domestically made sci-fi film could also capture the hearts of the audience overseas as the story is about the unity of all human beings.

"We live on the same planet. When the Earth is facing threats, each country should help each other and provide what it has as much as possible," Makarychev said.

The film currently has a high 78 percent critic and 97 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving the high popularity of the film among moviegoers overseas. 

Kadichi told the Global Times that one of his favorite parts of the film is when the Chinese and Russians undertake the significant task of triggering a nuclear bomb on the moon. Seeing astronauts in their 50s step forward to join a "one-way ticket" mission was very touching, and this part shows how far humans can go to unite together to save the Earth.

"I think this film really pointed out what human beings need to do," said Friend. 

"We are facing many crises, from war to famine and the climate crisis… This film in a way is like a metaphor. It is pointing out the fact that we all need to work together to solve our problems. I really loved how this story was about humanity getting together to save the world, just like how Chinese Ambassador Zhou Zhezhi convinces the world to do in the movie."

Compared with Makarychev and Kadichi who chose to come to China, Friend was born in Beijing to foreign expert parents. He has worked as a director, actor and concept artist. Having been living in China for decades, Friend has seen the "booming development" in the Chinese film industry.

"I think China has great talent and huge potential going forward. The world wants to see more Chinese movies and stories told from a Chinese perspective," Friend said.