China's sci-fi blockbuster wows audiences, boosted by sci-tech development

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A poster for "The Wandering Earth 2." [Image courtesy of China Film Group Corporation]

More than 50 days into its release, China's sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth II" has scored big at the box office and aroused heated discussion on social media platforms, drawing attention to the technologies and stories behind the movie.

Directed by Guo Fan and starring Andy Lau and Li Xuejian, "The Wandering Earth II" -- a prequel to the 2019 sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth" -- tells the story of humanity building enormous engines to propel Earth to a new solar system as the sun rapidly burns out.

Since its release on Jan. 22, the Chinese sci-fi adventure movie remains one of the top trending topics on China's Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo, with views of related topics hitting 250 million.

"The Wandering Earth II exceeded my expectations," said one Sina Weibo user. "With its imagination and stunning visual effects, it displays the infinite charm of sci-fi movies and conceptions to the fullest."

Gao Ang, art director of "The Wandering Earth II," said that the film used many more scenes and props than "The Wandering Earth."

"We hope to complete the task of 'depicting the future world' in the framework of 'historical documentary' through greater information density," Gao said of the team's purpose in making the movie.

The preparation, shooting and post-production lasted more than 1,400 days. It involved 5,310 conceptual-design drawings, more than 950,000 prop and costume items, and over 4,000 visual-effects shots.

After watching the movie, some audiences said they were impressed by those elements featuring science and technology, including space elevators and quantum computers. However, they said they sometimes mistook sci-tech props for visual effects.

The Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group Co., Ltd. (XCMG), a leading Chinese heavy machinery manufacturer, is among the providers of the movie's props.

Feng Ruoyu, director of the company's "The Wandering Earth II" project, said the filming is a process that the directors imagine and the people from XCMG implement. To facilitate the filming, the XCMG has provided 61 sets of equipment, such as the ET120 walking excavator, and more than 400 sets of parts, all free of charge, Feng added.

"When we see the equipment, we think our imagination cannot keep pace with reality," said Guo, the series director. "The reason we have such confidence in making science fiction films is that there are already such technologies in real life."

He said that people often see news on such things as Chinese astronauts conducting extravehicular activities and probes landing on the moon, and so they can be convinced of the scenes presented in sci-fi movies.

Guo added that scientific and technological progress has provided a realistic basis for sci-fi literature and art, while economic development has provided a sizeable cultural consumption market for sci-fi creation.

In February, the 2022 China sci-fi industry report was launched, jointly developed by the Beijing-based China Science Fiction Research Center and the Research Center for Science and Human Imagination under the Southern University of Science and Technology in south China's Guangdong Province.

According to the report, in 2021, the total revenue of China's sci-fi industry was 82.96 billion yuan (about 12 billion U.S. dollars), up 50.5 percent year on year, maintaining steady growth.

Wu Yan, a professor at the university, said the sci-fi-related policies and awards have been introduced and implemented, and various films and videos have been launched, bringing opportunities and confidence for the development of China's sci-fi industry.

"The Wandering Earth II" has earned over 4 billion yuan at the box office, according to box office tracker Maoyan. It has also been released in 23 countries and regions, including the United States, Canada, Singapore and Malaysia. In the future, it will be released in Russia, Uzbekistan and the Republic of Korea.

"Both movies and science fiction are universal languages, and we now use such languages to tell the stories of the Chinese people, the emotions of the Chinese people, and the choices that the Chinese people will make when they see humanity as a whole," said Ji Shaoting, head of the Future Affairs Administration, a sci-fi cultural company.

Liu Cixin, China's famous sci-fi writer and Hugo Award winner, wrote on his Sina Weibo page: "The creators of The Wandering Earth II are very similar to their characters in the movie, taking great courage and innovative spirit as the engine to push the planet of sci-fi movies into the future."

"We know that there is still a long way to go for China's science fiction, but, fortunately, there is a group of people who will never stop pushing forward," Liu added.

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