February 1, 2019
Sci-fi is a new genre for Chinese film. "The Wandering Earth", set to open in U. S. theaters on February 8th, may score big with international audiences. This is, in no small part, because the script is written by a Hugo Award-winning Chinese author, the first of Chinese to win the prestigious award.
Judging from the trailer, this new film that will appeal to global audiences because of its fast pacing, stunning special effects and computer graphics, and well-choreographed action.
In space,action must be big and the film delivers the dance of the space ship against the vastness of space, the ballet of weightlessness in fighting scenes against opponents, and the wielding of super-weapons. All three elements are on visual display in the trailer. See for yourself by clicking above.
Most importantly, the novelist/screenwriter gave the film a story with a theme (judging from the summaries published by reviewers. A screening of the complete film was not available to this reviewer at blog post time. This blog post will be updated after the reviewer screens the film.).
No author intentionally resurrects the limiting forms of socialist realist art. That type of art that is government-mandated and exists to support ideology. It is too formulaic and too restrictive to the imagination. It even manages to bore the audiences it is intended to educate in communist ideology. That is why the biggest literary figures in today's China are rebels such as Han Han, the rebel blogger who is a hero to the millennial generation in Xi's China.
Once in a while, a work of socialist realism is revived by the state, as with the ballet, "The Red Detachment of Women." I remember going to the theater in Beijing when the audience was composed mostly of young PLA soldiers. Some of them were sitting eyeing the stage with rapt attention, probably boys from the countryside who had never seen a theatrical performance, nor had they seen women in ballet costumes, even if they were more modest, more like uniforms, than their Western counterparts. Some of the young men, rotated off duty, were sleeping in their chairs.
The Cultural Revolution scarred too many artists. But government supervision of the arts was not restricted to the Cultural Revolution. Witness the complaints of Chinese authors and intellectuals during the period of total control of the arts in the Maoist era from 1949 to 1976, after Mao's death.
In the area of painting and other contemporary art forms, the government has decided to take a hands-off approach. Artists may even satirize Chairman Mao, painting a mustache on his iconic portrait. It is as if the government is saying, see, we are humane, we are modern, we tolerate dissent. This is a good approach to take when Chinese contemporary art has taken the global art market by storm. It is worth billions. The same may be true of the soft power of film. Thus, the experimentation in form and the move into Hollywood. This is film, and film has always been about capitalism.
As to the film "The Wandering Earth", the setting of space and the time of the future frees the creative team from the formula of propaganda as art. In daring to go where no people have ever gone, one has a story transcends the formulaic virtues and vices of the stock socialist hero and moves into the mythic territory of space, the realm of the imagination that George Lucas has dominated for four decades.
I predict that this film will cause a sensation, much like the entry of the Japanese sci-fi flick into American theaters in the 1950s and 60s, Think Godzilla and Mothra.
The reason that I make this prediction: a Chinese-American co-production that is a twist on the American shark movie tore up the box office in 2018. That was a movie called "The Meg."
You may recall it. A prehistoric shark emerges from the deep sea to go rogue and terrorize a joint Chinese-American research team. The producer calls it "Jurassic Shark." This is "Jaws" with a bigger badder adversary and a brainy but beautiful woman scientist as a co-hero. The story had some weaknesses but the concept and the execution were strong enough to qualify as original.
The deep sea environment is a similar environment to space. Get the characters off the terrain of earth and one liberates them to be people coping with forces much larger than themselves. This is a danger that any audience can understand and feel down in the bones.
According to the Hollywood Reporter: Made for more than $50 million, the movie is directed by Frant Gwo and stars Chinese action hero Wu Jing, the writer, director, and star of "Wolf Warrior 2", the military action flick that earned a historic $850 million in China in 2017.
Perhaps most notable for international sci-fi fans, the movie is an adaptation of a short story by author Liu Cixin, whose novel The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo Award in 2015 — China's first win of science fiction's highest honor. Banking on at least a modicum of curiosity factor in the West, Beijing-based distributor CMC Pictures has secured the international rights and is planning a sizable North American release on Feb. 8.