BEIJING, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Shanghai landmarks collapsing in earthquakes, extreme weather and tsunamis that reduce the world's population by half, Earth about to collide with Jupiter, a Chinese sci-fi blockbuster with daunting and unusual settings hit cinema screens Tuesday.
"The Wandering Earth," China's first big-budget sci-fi film, adapted from a short story by Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, has created high expectations for Chinese cinema fans who hope it will usher in a new era for Chinese sci-fi.
In the film mankind is threatened by a dying and swelling sun, and giant thrusters propel the planet out of the solar system on a 2,500-year journey in search of a new sun. It focuses on a Chinese astronaut and his emotionally estranged son, as they join a global mission to prevent Earth from crashing into Jupiter.
Director Guo Fan told Xinhua that the movie was not a "hero movie" but about humanity fighting a crisis "as one community."
"It has little to do with nations, races or languages -- at that time (of global calamities) everyone makes the same choice. In our story, there is no superhero who saves the world, but ordinary people united as one to embark on the wandering journey with Earth," he said.
Apart from Hollywood-style visuals, the movie is trying to woo moviegoers with its many Chinese elements, from Spring Festival celebrations in Beijing's underground city and Shanghai in a doomsday scenario to typical Chinese parenting.
China has the world's second-largest film market, with a box office reaching 55.9 billion yuan (about 8.05 billion U.S. dollars) in 2017. As a high-grossing film genre, sci-fi movies in China are mostly Hollywood imports.
"The Wandering Earth" has received good reviews in previews, including from Liu who hailed the movie as "good beyond expectation."
"It's hard to believe that this is the first big-budget sci-fi blockbuster by China," said the author of the award-winning "The Three-Body Problem." "If it fares well in the box office, it will set a good start for China's future sci-fi movies."
The film took four years to complete, and Guo, whose previous works include a teen film and a fantasy romance film, said the hardest part was overcoming ubiquitous disbelief that his team could produce a high-quality sci-fi movie. "It was a long process for us to win trust."
The film will run into an intensely competitive Spring Festival holiday, a peak movie-going period in China, facing rivals including three high-profile comedies "Crazy Alien," "Pegasus" and "The New King of Comedy," Jackie Chan's "The Knight of Shadows: Between Yin and Yang" and Hong Kong crime film "Integrity."
The film is also scheduled to hit theaters in the United States, Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday.
The movie has sent ripples of excitement across China's sci-fi sector and even Chinese astronauts, who gave positive reviews of the film during its special screenings.
"'The Wandering Earth' will mark a new start for China's sci-fi movies," said Ji Shaoting, founder of Future Affairs Administration, the agent for Liu Cixin and an incubator for new sci-fi writers. "It is a powerful challenge to the widespread bias against having Chinese faces in sci-fi movies."
China produced some high-profile sci-fi movies in the 1980s and 1990s, including sci-fi thriller "The Ozone Layer Vanishes," but the genre largely vanished in the new century amid the onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters, and doubts on China's capabilities to make sci-fi blockbusters have shrouded the film industry for years, according to Ji.
But there are indications of both the industry and the market getting ready for a change. China's technological boom and ambitious space program has rekindled public enthusiasm for sci-fi. The movie's scenes about Chinese astronauts working on a space station may strike the audience as more convincing in a country that aims to have its own space station operational by 2022.
Chinese sci-fi writer Han Song said China was leaving behind its insular and self-centered eras. "In recent years, as prosperity replaced hunger and with the advent of globalization, the Chinese have set their eyes on something further and started to gaze at the stars again."
"And as China catches up in space technologies, we also begin to ponder humanity's role in the universe and ask the question, who am I?" he said.
This Spring Festival will test the warming market for new China-made sci-fi movies. On Tuesday, over 30 percent of China's cinema screen time will be taken up by sci-fi movies -- "The Wandering Earth" and the front-runner "Crazy Alien," a sci-fi comedy also inspired by Liu's short story.
The movie has, as of 5:30 p.m., raked in 161 million yuan (23.8 million U.S. dollars) at the box office, with a 8.5/10 rating on China's Douban website.
On Tuesday afternoon, Avatar director James Cameron wished the movie good luck on his Sina Weibo account, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. "Good luck with your space journey of the Wandering Earth. Good luck with the voyage of Chinese sci-fi films."