On February 5， 2019， this year’s Chinese New Year， The Wandering Earth， a movie adapted from eminent Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin’s novel of the same name， hit cinemas in China. With an imaginative plot， impressive visual effects and strong traditional Chinese sentiment for home and nation， the film created a sci-fi fantasy with a unique Chinese style that proved successful with critics and moviegoers alike. By March 21， 2019， it had grossed 4.6 billion yuan （US$685 million） in China and nearly 45 million yuan（US$6.7 million） overseas.
Dubbed “the dawn of Chinese sci-fi movies，” the film has not only triggered a sensation among Chinese sci-fi lovers， filmmakers and moviegoers， but has also drawn global attention. The New York Times published an article entitled “China’s Film Industry Finally Joins the Space Race，” which pointed out that the special effects of The Wandering Earth are certain to be measured against Hollywood’s， and that the movie represents the “dawning of a new era in Chinese filmmaking.”
Although director Guo Fan insisted that it remains too early to acknowledge the dawn of Chinese sci-fi films， The Wandering Earth is still widely praised for its pioneering role in China’s sci-fi production and even the history of Chinese filmmaking. In the eyes of Chinese sci-fi lovers， the movie’s importance rivals even that of its source author Liu Cixin， who “elevated China’s sci-fi literature to the world class alone.” According to Rao Shuguang， head of China Film Critics Association， The Wandering Earth turned a new page for Chinese sci-fi films， and its important role in promoting the high-quality development of China’s film industry will become increasingly prominent over time.
Chinese-style Sci-Fi Fantasy
The Wandering Earth is set in the year 2075： The sun is about to self destruct， and humankind must race against time to bring Earth out of the solar system by installing 12，000 giant thrusters to attempt to flee to a new home 4.2 light years away.
Turning the entire planet into a massive spaceship is different from any Hollywood sci-fi disaster movies， in which scientists would usually use a sort of “Noah’s ark” to carry survivors to another livable planet. This uniquely devised plan shows the Chinese people’s sentiment for their homeland， bestowing on the film a spirit different from that of Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters.
In 2015， Guo Fan was invited to participate in filming The Wandering Earth. When writing its script， he chose a particular episode from the original novel. The main plot is that as Earth approaches Jupiter， the gas giant’s huge gravitational force captures the planet and threatens to tear Earth apart within days. The film has two parallel storylines： one follows Liu Qi， his adopted sister and a rescue team transporting an ignition-core to re-start an engine； the other features his father， Liu Peiqiang， who from a space station tries his utmost to save the planet. Eventually， the father reconciles with his long-estranged son， and works together with rescue teams on the surface to evade Jupiter and save Earth， at the cost of his life. The impressive scenes described in the novel， such as helium flashes of the sun， plasma beams of the thousands of thrusters driving Earth， underground megacities with millions of residents， and Jupiter rising like a monster from the horizon as Earth approaches it， are visualized in the movie through the use of VFX shots. The Wandering Earth is the first Chinese movie to depict frozen landmarks in Beijing and Shanghai in the context of a post-apocalyptic world. Moreover， the spacecraft and transport trucks with the heavy-duty industrial style of the former Soviet Union in the movie and “powered exoskeletons”created by New Zealand’s world-famous visual effects company Weta Digital inspire nostalgia in a Chinese audience.
Unlike American super-hero sci-fi movies， The Wandering Earth depicts a massive global rescue effort that involves 1.5 million people from different countries， including Liu Peiqiang， who sacrifices himself in the effort. Rescuers work hand in hand to cope with the crisis and escape a tragic fate， demonstrating the Chinese vision of building a “community with a shared future for humanity.” Against the backdrop of a doomed world， the film tries to build emotional connections between father and son， individual and collective， the homeland and the remote destination. Therefore， it manages to extend Chinese feelings for home and nation to all of mankind and even the entire universe and creates a sci-fi world imbued with elements of traditional Chinese culture.
Dawn of Chinese Sci-Fi Films
The Wandering Earth has achieved a balance between Chinese indigenous culture and sci-fi movies， a cultural genre originating in the West. It can be largely attributed to Director Guo’s effort to learn from his Hollywood counterparts and build an industrialized filmmaking capacity in the process of making this film.
In 2014， Guo spent a short time studying at Paramount Pictures. Hollywood’s rigid but powerful filmmaking system impressed him deeply. Based on the experience he gained in the United States， he introduced a standardized script writing system that enabled several screenwriters to work simultaneously， and integrated post-production， directing and photography software into a unified system. He input 3，000 concept drawings into the system to help screenwriters bring about new ideas and further improve details of the story. According to Guo， due to financing and technological limitations， he mainly used Hollywood’s 1990s filmmaking workflow as his reference point. Consequently， his film adopted extensive physical special effects and relatively few digital visual effects. Alongside the 3，000 concept drawings， the crew created 8，000 storyboard images， 10，000 props， 100，000 square meters of real-life reconstruction， and 2，500 VFX shots. Completing so many laborious tasks required constructing an industrialized filmmaking system. The system eventually helped the film reach a new height in the history of China’s film industry.
Since 1994 when China opened its market to American films， Hollywood productions featuring avant-garde concepts， high technology and big budgets have continued setting new records in terms of box office revenues in China， and to a large extent， have changed Chinese moviegoers’ taste and demands. Inspired by foreign hits， a number of homemade blockbusters have emerged with impressive ticket sales in China such as Hero（2002） and House of Flying Daggers （2004）.
In 2014， China Film Group Corporation launched a project to produce three sci-fi movies including The Wandering Earth， each with budgets of at least US$40 million. Five years later， The Wandering Earth， with an investment of nearly US$80 million， finally hit theaters， heralding the dawn of China’s sci-fi films. Inspired by its success， China is accelerating the production of several sci-fi movies. However， many challenges await， and creating China’s unique sci-fi culture will require more people to contribute their energy and wisdom. But， one thing is certain： With the continuous modernization and industrialization of China， many great Chinese sci-fi films are soon to be made.