dir: Frant Gwo
This is one of the highest grossing movies in Chinese history, and so I thought I’d give it a gander (on Netflix), knowing full well that something being immensely popular sometimes guarantees a certain level of interstellar shiteness, no matter the pedigree.
Also, despite being a fan of Chinese and Hong Kong movies for decades, I always knew that there was a disconnect between the stuff I was getting to see in the arthouse cinemas and from the dodgy Chinatown DVD sellers, and what the mass Asian audience was watching in its own backyard.
The Wandering Earth, despite being based on a short story by Liu Cixin, is certainly one of the dumbest science fiction flicks to have ever been produced, at least as far as the actual ‘science’ part of the phrase is concerned. Again I say despite the involvement of Liu Cixin, most famous outside of China for the Three Body Problem and for his other novels in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy which brought a profoundly different take on the science fiction genre and to stories about other alien cultures finding out about sentient life on Earth. He is a great writer of complex stuff. This film is neither great nor complex stuff. It’s essentially the Mainland China Communist Party Approved version of Armageddon; that dumb – as - a - box - full - of - Bruce - Willises movie where Michael Bay does to our brains what Michael Bay has been doing to movies for decades.
Big budget Chinese films are, like the big budget films of any nation, propagandistic by their very nature. All of them say something political just by existing, but Chinese movies specifically say ‘something’ just by being approved by the government censors for production. And Chinese films for the last couple of decades have been getting vastly more nationalistic in their plots and their action. If Wandering Earth is the second most Titanic-like movie in Chinese box office history, well, Number 1 is Wolf Warrior II, a movie where noble Chinese ex-special forces jerks / mercenaries save helpless African locals from evil Americans mercenaries. I wonder what the attraction is, hmmm…
Maybe there’s a theme emerging here. Big box office comes from, apparently, making Chinese heroes the saviours of all of humanity, with the best and brightest from other nations taking a bit of a back seat. It’s only fair; now it’s their time to shine.
The Wandering Earth’s plot is so fucking bonkers that if I even try to describe it openly, you’re probably going to think I’m either bullshitting, flat out wrong, or that it sounds so insane that it has to be a guilty pleasure to watch, like a Sharknado movie or anything with talking animals in it. It is none of those things. I swear on all that is good and holy, it is none of those things.
The sun in our solar system, about 40 years into the future, spontaneously decides to become a red giant, meaning the Earth is fucked, or at least more fucked than it was previously.
That’s the first instance of abject bullshit: as if there are going to be people around in 2061.
So, an ambitious plan is hatched to: stop the Earth from spinning, install a multitude of engines to the planet, start flying the Earth through space in the direction of Alpha Centauri, which is 4 light years away, in a scheme intended to take thousands of years because of course faster than light speed hasn’t been invented, but a way to stop the planet spinning has.
Awfully convenient my Confucian friends, awfully convenient.
It’s just so crazy, it could work. No, wait, it’s so fucking nuts it makes flying a team of oil drill workers onto a meteor to blow it up using an explosive combining Ben Affleck’s chin, Owen Wilson’s nose and Bruce Willis’s shiny head as the only way to save humanity sounds more realistic.
But you have to leave Liv Tyler behind on Earth, to pine for the men in her life, because girls in space is just wrong and icky.
The Wandering Earth doesn’t think so. It has a couple of girls in prominent roles. By ‘prominent’ I mean there is a teenage girl (Zhao Jinmai) who spends a lot of the movie crying whenever her brother does something dangerous, which is quite often, or when she needs to inspire people to do the right thing, which is also often, and another woman who’s a fiercely serious and fiercely competent soldier. There’s no-one to shoot, but there is a surprising abundance of serious Chinese army people running around with guns, being very authoritarian and competent, don’t you know.
Even though the story requires the majority of the people of the Earth to a) die and b) abandon parochial ideas of nation-states in order to work towards the common good of humanity’s survival, really, it comes down to a few Chinese patriots doing their bit and sacrificing what they can in order to save everyone (well, everyone that’s left).
There are two main characters. Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao) is a teenage boy angry at his father. The other is the teenage boy’s father, Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing), who is on some space station dragging the Earth along to its new home. The boy’s reason for being angry at his father is possibly, since billions of people have already died, perhaps the example that should be taught in film classes as THE most Arbitrary reason ever given, and yet it never matters.
Liu Peiqiang is a super genius amongst equals from other nation’s leading the mission, but he often has conflicts between his Mission (save humanity) and his son and daughter, who he hasn’t seen for ages, but, you know, he’s doing his bit. His job is to ensure that the whole bandwagon stays on course, especially since it’s hurtling towards Jupiter, in one of those idiotic premises where astronauts have to slingshot using something’s gravity in order to get enough speed to blah blah blah.
He's meant to make sure everything’s fine in the planet’s trajectory around Jupiter, then go into cryo status with the other staff. If he did that, everything would have been fine, except for the remaining people on Earth who live in underground cities, or for the Earth itself.
I’m not an astronomer, but I would wager that if you could fly the Earth through space like it was a particularly cumbersome bus with awkward steering, in a journey that’s going to take thousands of years, flying towards Jupiter and veering away at the last second would seem like an idea fraught with peril. Apparently they didn’t think that much about it, because now it seems like the Earth is Fucked! Maths isn’t my strong suit either, but I can solve the equation that Jupiter + Earth = Jupiter swallowing the Earth with barely a ripple on its gas giant surface. Now the giant red storm that looks like an eye will have a blue tennis ball to play with!
Instead of complying with dumb orders, Liu Peiqiang, using the magic of vodka, stops the process that would otherwise doom the Earth, in order to coordinate with jerks on Earth to find a way to correct its trajectory and save The World!
The United Nations computer says no, though. Can’t do it. It’s too dumb. Instead, the Earth is to be jettisoned like the trash that it is, and the space station-y bit will sail on, filled with human embryos, ready to fly to Alpha Centauri and ensure the continuation of the species, somehow, someway.
No! That’s not as satisfying! We need the planet, because Liu Peiqiang’s kids are still on it. And they’re fighting hard, by restarting reactors, or stopping other reactors, or by occasionally swearing at each other, and racing around the planet at the last second, or, my favourite bit, where a bunch of people have to push together on a metal thing to save the world. And it works!
The action is competently done, I guess, but it’s almost entirely CGI, and has a certain amount of flatness to it, depicting a planet that looks like a moon, with a lot of people taking actions that I guess have to be taken, but it’s pretty hard to take any of it seriously. The younger Liu Qi gets the lion’s share of the dialogue and most of the pretending to sneer at authority material, only to be the one who gets things done and conforms the most (not an unlikely Party Sanctioned Premise) when it’s required. He keeps barking at his dad in ways no more complex than “you suck dad, go to hell, dad, you’re so lame, dad”, but then of course feels guilty when his dad, ordered to save the station instead of the planet, sacrifices the station in order to save the planet with his kids on it.
These points, and their solutions, are so out there, are so not grounded or believable, that the most you can do is shrug, really. Maybe in this flick you can enjoy the interactions between characters, like between the brother and sister character (who only either talk plot exposition or guilt), or Liu Qi and a strange half-Chinese half-Australian character called Tim (Mike Sui), who is meant as comical relief, but doesn’t really say anything funny except for the accent which they think is Australian, but mostly he’s a one-expression, one-tone kind of guy, as are they all.
This may be one of the biggest Chinese films of all time, but honestly, as a half Australian, AND other half Australian as well, watcher of dumb movies par excellence, of this shitty flick all I can say further is that it’s the most overwrought yet dull and least believable flick I’ve seen since The Core. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean, and if you haven’t, please, by all the gods, do something else with your life.
4 times one should wander away from any screen showing this flick out of 10
“Earth has oppressed me thousands of times, but I am nonetheless attached to it” – what does that mean in any language? – The Wandering Earth