Director: Frant Gwo
Cast: Jing Wu, Chuxiao Qu, Guangjie Li
Watch The Wandering Earth online in the UK: Netflix UK
Up until Marvel broke box office records with the latest instalment of its cinematic universe, a sci-fi film from China was the highest grossing film of 2019. Made on a $50 million budget, The Wandering Earth made more than $500 million in its first two weeks alone and is currently the second highest-grossing non-English film of all time – not bad for China’s first sci-fi blockbuster.
Based on the book by Liu Cixin, The Wandering Earth sees Earth being propelled out of the solar system to save it from an expanding Sun. However, the planet unexpectedly finds itself on a collision course with Jupiter and it is up to a group of astronauts to save Earth and mankind.
Yes, it’s an incredulous plot that defies the laws of science, but, let’s be honest, that’s the basis of sci-fi cinema, where anything is possible. Even though The Wandering Earth is seen as China’s foray into the blockbuster market, inspirations from Western cinema such as Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey are so evident that the film could be dismissed as a Chinese remake of a Hollywood movie. But Frant Gwo’s second directorial feature offers something lacking in US crowd-pleasers: much needed diversity. The film doesn’t solely revolve around the Chinese. With the inclusion of Russian, English and even French characters, its multilingual approach reflects the fact that preserving mankind is not dominated by Western or Eastern powers; it is, in fact, a global matter. This provides a novel narrative that is relatively more plausible than similar Hollywood films.
In comparison to well-known apocalyptic space flicks such as Armageddon, the collaborative screenplay doesn’t sway into patriotism and conflict. In The Wandering Earth, it’s a determined uphill struggle, a race against time where the odds are against mankind and even the global government is choosing to flee rather than fight. Even though they mostly represent familiar tropes – the reluctant hero, the determined soldier and the bespectacled scientist – the protagonists’ perseverance highlights a level of determination that elicits a surprising sense of excitement.
Rooted in the chaos is the troubled relationship between Liu Qi, father Liu Peiqiang and grandfather Han, which runs deeper than the initial bitterness and resentment. While there are glimpses of a closeness between Liu Qi and Liu Peiqiang, unsettled business and a lack of emotional connection has seen them grow apart. This is exacerbated by Peiquang’s 17-year absence and his inability to support or help his family on Earth. As the film progresses, we see the dynamics of the two characters slowly change as they separately work against a common goal: to save the Earth.
What will win audiences over, however, are the gorgeous visuals. Michael Liu’s twisty cinematography emphasises the instability of space and Gwo’s clear and almost blunt direction carefully maintains a consistent level of action under the weight of its extensive visual effects. In terms of conveying a space-based adventure, Gwo successfully captures the vastness and magnitude of an impending apocalypse and steps up to the directorial plate to deliver a piece of notable Chinese filmmaking.
The Wandering Earth is definitely bold and silly, but when a film looks as gorgeous as this, it’s hard not to be mesmerised. If you want to see non-superheroes saving the world, this is worth watching.
The Wandering Earth is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.