CERT: 15 | DIRECTOR: FRANT GWO | SCREENPLAY: GONG GE’ER, YAN DONGXU, FRANT GWO, YE JUNCE, YANG ZHIXUE, WU YI, YE RUCHANG | STARRING: QU CHUXIAO, LI GUANGJIE, NG MAN-TAT, ZHAO JINMAI | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW [VIA NETFLIX]
Chinese cinema attendance now accounts for a massive proportion of the worldwide Box Office take of most major Hollywood motion pictures, and some films which have performed disappointingly or faltered in Western Cinemas have done well enough to earn a sequel purely on the basis of the cash generated from the Eastern market. This isn’t yet two-way traffic, however; we’re still a long way from seeing Chinese cinema being welcomed with open arms in, say the United States, where foreign language cinema, whatever the genre, is still marginalised and offered, at best, a limited theatrical release on just a handful of screens.
The Wandering Earth is a case in point. This dazzlingly spectacular science-fiction extravaganza has earned nearly $700 million in China alone since it was released in February (making it not only China’s second highest-grossing film of all time but also the world’s third highest-grossing film of 2019); that’s Marvel-sized money. It does seem a little disingenuous of Netflix, having secured the film’s global streaming rights, to dump it onto their servers without any sort of fanfare and without making any real attempt to draw their audience’s attention to its existence.
Perhaps it’s because The Wandering Earth, for all its spectacle and bluster, is a damned strange – if not downright utterly demented – film. In the near future, the Earth is coming to the end of its lifespan and is turning into a ‘red giant’. The Earth’s disparate Governments come together and form the United Earth Government and come up with the mind-bogglingly daft idea of fitting the planet with thousands of fusion-powered engines – Earth-engines – which will turn Earth into a spaceship which can be piloted out of our Universe towards the safer climes of Alpha Centauri. The planet’s population is drastically reduced by the after-effects of the Earth’s rotation being forcibly stopped and those who remain live in huge underground cities to escape the hostile wintry conditions on the surface. All seems to be going agreeably until the Earth approaches Jupiter and is drawn into the giant planet’s gravity well - but not before many of the Earth-engines are disabled by earthquakes caused by the proximity to Jupiter itself. Earth is on a collision course with Jupiter; it seems that the only way to break free might be to… er… ignite some of Jupiter’s atmosphere so the explosion will tear Earth free from the pull of the planet’s gravity and be propelled back onto its journey.
That’s right, The Wandering Earth is utterly bonkers, but that doesn’t make it a bad film, just a magnificently silly one that will dazzle and entertain you with its mad spectacle (much of which belies its $50 million budget) even as you’re marvelling at the utter impossibility of it all. Most of the characters spend their time in bulky spacesuits, so it’s hard to make sense of who’s who and who’s doing what. That said, there are a few perfunctory character arcs to add a bit of colour to a fairly faceless and disposable cast list – in particular, the plight of the Chinese astronaut aboard the navigation satellite and his two kids who get themselves into innumerable scrapes as they take to the surface to help with the repairs. But you’re really not here to invest in the smaller human dramas, you’ll just want to gawp at the audacious silliness of the plot itself and the thundering spectacle which will keep you glued to the screen even if your finely-tuned critical faculties will be screaming at you to put a stop to this nonsense and find something less ridiculous to pass the time with. The Wandering Earth really is quite preposterous, but it’s crazily colourful, impressively propulsive and, in the end, embarrassingly enjoyable.