Released on February 5, the first day of China’s lunar new year, The Wandering Earth, is the first ever Chinese hard sci-fi film in many senses. New York Times reported that it marks the arrival of a new era of Chinese film production.
The premise of the film The Wandering Earth is simple. With the sun’s ailing, the solar system will at some point become no favorable place for the earth. Tens of thousands of engines are built by the Coalition government on earth, in supportive of earth’s centuries’ wander, in searching for a new homeland.
The night I watched Interstellar, I remember sitting there in the cinema, amazed and unable to move, completely engrossed in the complexities of astrophysics, be it a wormhole, a blackhole or a fourth dimension. But the day I went to see The Wandering Earth, I was struck by a sense of national pride, a Hollywood-equivalent sci-fi fantasy with Chinese characteristics, which I could never have imagined a few years ago.
“I have never seen the night. I have never seen the stars. I have never seen spring, fall, or winter. I was born as the Braking Era ended, just as the Earth stopped turning.”
This is an extract from the original book by Liu Cixin, China’s most renowned science fiction writer, dubbed by New York Times as China’s Arthur C Clarke. Liu is one of the most low-profile writers of this generation. Before he got famous and won a Hugo award, he had been working as a hydropower engineer at a power plant. For seven years, he spent every hour after work writing his sci-fi stories. In the confined space of his small apartment, he contemplated upon the cosmos, the Dark Forest theory and the wandering earth.
His profession and life experience make his novels theoretically accurate and convincing. Back in 1999, he wrote an article explaining the essence of sci-fi, entitled SF religion— on the depiction of the universe in sci-fi novels. He mentioned something about what Chinese sci-fi lacks the most—a religious sentiment.
“Mind here, it’s religious sentiment, not religion. It’s not the emotions towards God, it’s atheistic.”
“The religious sentiment of science fiction has a deep sense of awe for the grand mysteries of the universe.”
Such awestruck feelings shall be presented in both time and space.
One of the most touching scenes in The Wandering Earth is, as the team goes past the line of eternal night, the hero stands under the giant “Jupiter sky”, so vast and boundless, with the red circular patterns covering the entirety of the sky. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, with a mass two and a half times that of all the other planets in the solar system combined.
He looked into it, with a deep anticipation for his father’s return and a sense of awe, but no fear in his eyes.
The giant red ball is composed of hydrogen, which needs rockets and tons of fuel to enlighten. It reminds me of an ancient Chinese myth where an archer shot the sun, with bow and arrows. According to the myth, in the ancient times there were ten suns on the ground, scorching and drying the earth, until someone brave enough challenged nature and shot down nine of them. The commonality of the stories lie in their fearless belief in mortal power.
The grandness of the cosmo is also more relevant with the span of time.
In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey pulled the lever, powering his spaceship further into the boundaries of the blackhole, which put him another 50 or 60 years ahead of the time. When he returns, his daughter is already 90 some years old. In the novel The Wandering Earth, “The entire migration process was projected to last 2,500 years, over one hundred generations.” The time span of one hundred generations, greatly surpass what ordinary humans experience in one lifetime.
The wander, here in Chinese can be translated into an exile and banishment. Earth, like an abandoned sun, banished by the solar system, had to leave its “motherland”. The basis of the story coincides with the Chinese psychological idea of the birth and death of the cosmos, as well as self-banishment with some sense of tragedy and quest for eternality.
At this point, The Wandering Earth is far more than an industrial production in Hollywood packaging. It is the first sci-fi film with a Chinese spiritual core.
Race in the skies
“You know why Russians in the times of Yuri Gagarin brought alcohol into space?” The line is a tribute to the Russians, who were the first to put humans in space, as were written in our middle school textbooks.
Chinese astronaut played by Jacky Wu, then used the alcohol to burn down the whole space center. He flashed back about the joke of fishing on the Lake Baikal with his passed Russian friend, then embarked on his journey to save the entire human race.
The space excursion is indeed about individualistic heroism as we remember names like Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong.
The space race began half a century ago, marked by Gagarin’s entry into space. When the US beat the Soviets to the moon, the Soviets began to divert their energy into space exploration. They later built the Mir space station, the first International Space Research Center for humans’ long-term residence, which retired in 2001.
The power in space is always highly relevant to the power below. Half a century later, we are just catching up in our space quest. Several weeks ago, we witnessed Chang’e 4’s arrival on the far side of the moon for the first time in human history. In the coming years, China will build its own space station, Tiangong or Heavenly Palace in English.
China is now the relay player in the space race, both in reality and on screen. Banishment, in a sense, stands for new journeys. One day, “Our conquest will be the Sea of Stars.”
Featured photo credit to sina.news