An Honest Review of China’s Sci-fi Blockbuster The Wandering Earth
Warning: spoilers ahead. The opinions expressed in “‘The Wandering Earth’ Review” are not representative of LTL Mandarin School.
The Wandering Earth (2019) is marketed as an action sci-fi film, but it’s also a horror movie on how the untimely demise of humans may come, instigated not by greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures (not only these things, at least) but by the expansion of the Sun.
It starts off by explaining exactly why Earth is now, well, wandering, and things continue to escalate from there. I’m not just talking about the plot.
The Wandering Earth Review: A Reflection
The Wandering Earth Review: FAQs
The Wandering Earth (《流浪地球》), directed by Frant Gwo (郭帆), may be set in on the same planet we are currently residing upon, but their similarities are few and far between.
This Earth, threatened with complete extinction by the enlarging Sun, unites under the aptly named United Earth Government.
They stop Earth’s rotation and propel Earth away from the Sun through tens of thousands of engines across the globe. And while Earth moves to a different star system, its population moves underground.
It sounds horrifying, to say the least.
Still, as much as Earth has changed, day-to-day life is preserved as much as possible.
Students are still students bored in class and gangs still gamble Mahjong. Our main characters still participate in illegal activities, which inadvertently involves them in what could be the end of humankind.
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Firstly, The Wandering Earth’s protagonist is Liu Qi (刘启), a 21-year-old who takes his younger sister out of class to visit the outside.
His father is one of many on the Navigation Platform, the space station responsible for helping navigate Earth.
It doesn’t take long for us to find out that Liu Qi harbors some form of resentment for his father, the reason of which we are not yet privy to. Qu Chuxiao (屈楚萧) plays Liu Qi.
Liu Qi’s adoptive younger sister is Han Duoduo (韩朵朵). She’s around 14, and her headstrong personality lands herself and her brother in trouble but also eventually saves them.
The actress, Zhao Jinmai (趙今麥), plays her character of a bored, naive teenager fiercely loyal to her brother and own beliefs well.
Liu Peiqiang (刘培强), father of Liu Qi and son of Han Zi’ang, begins the movie a day before his return to Earth.
He’d been in space for 17 years at that point, and the camaraderie and respect displayed by his colleagues on the Navigation Platform show that he is very, very good at his job.
Wu Jing (吴京) plays Liu Peiqiang; he also starred in the Wolf Warrior franchise.
When introduced to Han Zi’ang (韩子昂), the father of Liu Peiqiang and guardian of Liu Qi and Han Duoduo, the audience understands more where Han Duoduo’s loyalty comes from.
We are later introduced to Captain Wang Lei (王磊), who is concerned with the greater good of humanity first and foremost. Ng Man-tat (吳孟達) plays Han Zi’ang, and Li Guangjie (李光洁) plays Captain Wang Lei.
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This is a movie about sacrifice, sacrifice, and more sacrifice. Its overarching themes about the greater good, family, and forgiveness all center at sacrifice.
The Wandering Earth is entirely predictable, and if you make an educated guess that a certain someone will die (or someones), you would likely be correct.
Predictability isn’t exactly a bad thing, but when it’s a science-fiction (科幻片) about the fate of Earth, you aren’t exactly aiming for predictability.
(Obviously, Earth will be fine in the end, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Does that count as a spoiler?)
Furthermore, as the plot progresses, the plot becomes increasingly unbelievable.
My personal favorite would be the scene where the film culminates into a monologue about hope in humanity delivered by 14-year-old Han Duoduo.
Specifically, she rouses the entire world from defeat to perseverance with an 1 minute, 15 second speech that only briefly mentions the actual plan for, you know, saving the world.
What then follows is a five-minute sequence on this switch from defeat to perseverance, complete with a scene of 100 or so trucks simultaneously turning around in solidarity.
On the other hand, The Wandering Earth is paced well. This isn’t a boring movie, because director Frant Gwo introduces enough to draw the audience in, but not enough to reveal the entire plot to the audience.
If you’ve ever been to Shanghai, it’s startling to watch the scene of Shanghai’s iconic skyline engulfed in ice.
It’s important to keep in mind that the audience of this movie is primarily those who live in China; The Wandering Earth questions their view of their home.
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A New Year’s Film
When watching the movie, it quickly becomes obvious that The Wandering Earth is a 贺岁片 (hèsuì piān): a Chinese New Year’s movie, or Lunar New Year movie.
A 贺岁片 is a movie released around Chinese New Year’s with the purpose of celebrating what Lunar New Year is about — a new year, new beginnings, and family. The Wandering Earth ticks off this list amazingly fast.
To begin with, The Wandering Earth takes place before Chinese New Year (春节), and the final saving of Earth takes place on — you guessed it — New Year’s Day (元旦).
For a movie about new beginnings and family, this film does a fantastic job of communicating this.
Additionally, the movie’s protagonist, Liu Qi (刘启) undergoes arguably the most character development in this movie, and it’s shown largely through his interactions with family and friends.
He learns to understand his father and ultimately, forgive his father for a decision he’s held a lifelong grudge for (to be fair, Liu Qi has only been alive for 21 years).
Their impromptu reunion is an emotional scene despite its triteness, and for its audiences watching in February of 2019, its message on the importance of family undoubtedly resonated.
Even more so, The Wandering Earth revolves around a family of three generations, who all contribute their part and then some to saving mankind.
Family is undeniably important across all cultures, but Chinese culture’s reverence of its elders is explicated in this film. Its roots lie in Confucian (儒教) principles of filial piety (孝顺) — respecting and taking care of one’s parents — and its influence is clear still to this day.
“When the Earth experiences this kind of crisis in Hollywood films, the hero always ventures out into space to find a new home, which is a very American approach — adventure, individualism. But in my [Gwo’s] film, we work as a team to take the whole Earth with us. This comes from Chinese cultural values — homeland, history and continuity.”Frant Gwo, interview with the Hollywood Reporter
The Wandering Earth Review: A Reflection
China’s sci-fi industry is slowly inching its way up, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
The movie cost nearly $50 million to make, reflected in its CGI (计算机生成影像); it’s impressive.
Many of the shots of Earth were beautiful, despite the reality that it was portraying our planet hurling into Jupiter (木星).
Compared to previous sci-fi films (or any film that heavily utilized on computer graphics), the improvement in CGI is evident.
Nonetheless, The Wandering Earth’s emphasis on sacrifice quickly tires out its audience. It was interesting the first time, predictable the second, and tedious the third and every time afterward.
I’d be lying if I said I’d watch it again, and I have to make a confession here: many, many reviewers (professional film reviewers, unlike me) gave The Wandering Earth a high rating, and I truly don’t understand.
The Wandering Earth is the next intersection of China’s ever-growing film industry and Hollywood, this time in the form of a science-fiction film.
In fact, Frant Gwo said himself that he was inspired by James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and Hollywood’s (好莱坞) obsession with action, sci-fi, and CGI is reflected clearly in The Wandering Earth.
The Wandering Earth was released theatrically worldwide and Netflix acquired its global streaming rights.
For a movie that wants to gain international traction, it went about it in an interesting way.
Not only is this movie unfortunately predictable in its plot and characters, it also so obviously indulges its Chinese audience at the price of quietly reducing the efforts of others.
Even so, I honestly do think The Wandering Earth communicates and reveals parts of Chinese culture well.
It perhaps epitomizes what a Chinese New Year’s film is, something that has seen an exponential growth in popularity in China since the 1980s.
The Wandering Earth is a breakthrough for Chinese science-fiction: a relatively untouched genre compared to its Western counterparts, this movie proves that China’s future in science-fiction is grand.
The Wandering Earth Review: FAQs
What is The Wandering Earth about?
In short, The Wandering Earth is about Earth years into the future, threatened with complete extinction by the expanding Sun. The world unites under the United Earth Government and manufactures tens of thousands of engines to stop Earth’s rotation and propel Earth away from the Sun.
The Wandering Earth is called 《流浪地球》in Chinese, which directly translates into its English name.
What is a 贺岁片?
A 贺岁片 (hèsuì piān) is a Chinese New Year film, which is a movie released around Chinese New Year. They celebrate what Lunar New Year is about — a new year, new beginnings, and family.
In my opinion, The Wandering Earth epitomizes what a 贺岁片 is as all its themes revolve around these ideas.
Should I watch The Wandering Earth?
Well, that’s completely up to you. If you want to watch a movie for its brilliantly written script, maybe look somewhere else.
But if you want to watch a movie that really intersects China’s film industry and Hollywood, The Wandering Earth is great for this. And if you want to watch a fun sci-fi space movie, this is a decent contender.
Where can I watch The Wandering Earth?
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