Movie Review - The Wandering Earth

In the United States, we have such a lack of knowledge about film culture in other countries or around the world. Actors who are stars internationally are complete unknowns to Americans. When it comes to British films, there's more awareness there, mainly due to similar languages. British cinema is a big industry, but two other big industries include those in India and in China. Chinese cinema in particular is such a huge market, meaning it doesn't just produce a lot of films but a lot of people go to the cinema where its theaters generate a lot of money, money in the billions. Mainly, its American films that eat up a lot of that money, but recently there have been a slew of Chinese films that have been eating up a lot of that money as well.

This film for example made just shy of $700 million. As such, it is the second highest-grossing Chinese film, as well as the second highest-grossing non-English film of all-time. It puts it in the Top 20 of highest-grossing science fiction films. It probably won't win any awards here in the U.S., but it's a disaster movie that wins the award of being the craziest and topping the insanity that's normally limited to a Roland Emmerich or a Dean Devlin film. If you've seen Emmerich or Devlin's films, you know that they love to create movies where the entire world gets destroyed. They like portraying global devastation where entire cities are ruined either by monsters like Independence Day (1996) or through epic natural disasters as in Geostorm (2017).

In those films, we see huge landmarks and iconic buildings get blown up or taken down. We see large areas where millions of people are wiped out all at once. Typically, we see excessive use of CGI to depict the immediate loss of these places, including whole countries. This film by Frant Gwo does all that devastation and exponentially increases it. It's CGI to the max, to the absolute far extreme. The premise requires this extreme and quite frankly this level of silliness. The premise is in fact so ridiculous that it goes way beyond suspension of disbelief. It's so that one can't believe what's on screen because what's on screen is impossible. Of course, this is true for recent comic book films as well, but Gwo's film pushes it to a degree that is even beyond impossible. If you can overlook that, then there are thrills to be had. If you can't, then it will dissolve faster than any confection immediately after seeing it. If you can't, then it still has some effective moments, if one is patient.

Jing Wu (Wolf Warrior) stars as Liu Peiqiang, a Chinese astronaut who is also a single father of two children. He has to leave his two kids with their grandfather when Peiqiang is called to serve aboard the international space station that has been built to guide the Earth on a journey out of its solar system. Yes, the beyond impossible premise of this film is that due to the expansion of the Sun, scientists and the combined governments have decided to move the planet Earth out of its orbit around that Sun and take the planet to another solar system that would be safer.

Thousands of engines have been built into the Earth to achieve this. The film does its best to account for all of the things that would occur if such an impossible feat was attempted. One of those things is the extreme climate change. They want to move the Earth because the expanding Sun would burn the surface and everything on it, but moving the Earth out of its orbit and into deep space would cause the surface to instead freeze over. To account for this, what is decided is that cities would be built underground to house the surviving human population for a space journey that would take years, if not centuries. Peiqiang goes to the space station that serves as the navigational relay for the planet.

Chuxiao Qu co-stars as Liu Qi, the teenage son of Peiqiang. He's grown up in one of the underground cities in China. He's grown up with his paternal grandfather and sister. He's a bit upset at his father for not being around. His father has been on the space station for Qi's entire childhood. Because of which, it makes Qi act out or act recklessly. He'll occasionally steal his grandfather's access card, which allows him to drive a huge vehicle that looks the size of several tanks and tractor-trailers called a transporter. Qi will take the transporter on joy rides with his sister. Those joy rides are along the surface of the Earth, which is completely frozen over.

The main thrust of this film involves the engines on the Earth failing and the Earth getting pulled in by the gravity of Jupiter. The gravitational force of Jupiter is so strong that it causes major devastation to the Earth. This is the source of a lot of the action and it becomes wacky. A lot of it could be seen as just a mess on screen. Gwo's handheld camerawork and fast-paced editing certainly contribute to that mess, but it also leads to some pretty stunning images like that of Jupiter sucking the Earth's atmosphere. It's actually a beautiful shot. It contrasts to the darker, greyer or ice cold shots that are the bulk of this film, given it takes place mostly inside space ships or military vehicles.

Qi has to help rebuild the engines and figure out a way to get the Earth out of the gravitational pull of Jupiter. At the same time, Peiqiang has to figure out a way to help from on board the space station, which isn't easy given that he also has to battle the station's computer called MOSS, which is more like the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It's unneeded, but it gives Jing Wu who is a more acclaimed actor something to do for the bulk of this film.

The clencher though comes at the very end when Qi and Peiqiang's actions converge. I would argue that the film doesn't do the best job of establishing the relationship or lack thereof between Qi and Peiqiang, but the way that the two of them converge at the end was affecting. The silliness is very overbearing, but somehow Gwo manages to land a very emotional moment amongst all the absurd chaos. It makes for a very sentimental and rousing conclusion without being too corny. It makes you think that the whole thing wasn't just frivolity and that the film had something serious on its mind.

Liú làng dì qiú
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 5 mins.

Available on Netflix.


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