Ever since Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem became the first Chinese sci-fi novel to win the prestigious Hugo award in 2015, propelling the author and genre to a new stratum of mainstream recognition within China, critics, fans and commentators have been hotly anticipating a “new era of Chinese sci-fi cinema”. Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy — of which The Three-Body Problem is the first installment — has been shouldering expectations to kickstart this new cinematic wave since that same year, when Shanghai-based production company YooZoo Pictures announced that the first in a proposed six-film franchise adapted from the Remembrance series had completed filming.
Fast forward to October 2018, and we still haven’t seen this film, reportedly due to a “lack of visual depictions“. YooZoo Pictures nevertheless re-asserted their adaptation rights to the Remembrance trilogy in March, after Amazon entered the fray offering 1 billion USD to adapt the novel into a three-season web series. It might take a while longer to see Liu’s “immense” — to use President Obama’s word — saga on the silver (or smartphone) screen.
Obama meets Liu Cixin
But for now, we can look forward to watching another of Liu’s original sci-fi stories in theaters next year: The Wandering Earth, a much shorter novel first published in 2000 (the Remembrance series was published between 2008 and 2010). The Wandering Earth depicts humanity’s search for a new solar system suitable for life, with its protagonists using Earth as a starship when our original solar system starts burning down in the year 2100. A key theme in the novel is how catastrophic changes in the Earth’s environment prompt its surviving citizens’ mindsets to likewise transform as Earth wanders through the galaxy.
The film was produced by the China Film Group Corporation, and by Beijing Culture, a former tourism company that has morphed into a film production company. At a press conference held at the Chinese Aerospace Museum in Beijing on October 25, it was announced that The Wandering Earth would hit theaters during the Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year, on February 5, 2019 — a prime location in the box office calendar, comparable to Thanksgiving/Christmas releases in the US.
Liu Cixin, director Frant Gwo, and actor Wu Jing — a household name in China thanks to the immense success of the Wolf Warrior franchise that he created, stars in, and directs — turned out in proper space attire for the formal unveiling of the film.
Director Frant Gwo
Wandering Earth production team
Whether or not it successfully kicks off a “new era of Chinese sci-fi cinema,” The Wandering Earth will at least be one of the first truly homegrown efforts in the genre to hit the prime time, with A-list source material and a bona fide leading man.
And we can expect more where that came from, as Liu Cixin has been actively working to bring his literary works to the screen in recent years. Indie auteur Ning Hao’s new comedy Crazy Alien — based on a short story from Liu Cixin’s 2001 collection The Rural Teacher, and co-created by Liu — will hit theaters on the same day as The Wandering Earth.
We’ll report back on those once they’re out. In the mean time, here’s the latest teaser for The Wandering Earth, featuring an obligatory shot of the post-fallout Shanghai skyline (and the ruins of a Shanghai Olympics 2044 venue, for good measure):
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