by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Since China's first homemade sci-fi blockbuster "The Wandering Earth" opened throughout the United States last week, the epic has amazed moviegoers with its bold imagination, winning applause and encouragement for Chinese filmmakers' commendable foray into the sci-fi sphere.
"That was killer!" said Randy, 12, a young American sci-fi enthusiast, who watched the film with his pal, Scott, in the Southern California city of Burbank. "The Chinese totally saved the world this time!" he grinned.
The film, directed by Frant Gwo (Guo Fan), is co-produced by China Film Group Corporation and hit-maker studio Beijing Culture. It was released by China Media Capital (CMC) in 29 U.S. cities on Chinese New Year's Day, in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles.
"The film is very impressive. It's the best Chinese sci-fi film I've ever watched with great special effects and emotional plot," said a Chinese-American moviegoer, Jenny Gao, who watched the film in an AMC theater in the city of Monterey Park, after having to drive nearly an hour from her Long Beach home.
The film is mainly being screened in limited theaters in cities with larger, overseas Chinese populations, even stirring some complaints among Chinese-Americans for the scarcity of film tickets in prime time.
"The Wandering Earth" is based on a short story with the same name by Liu Cixin, China's top Chinese science-fiction writer and the first in China to win the prestigious Hugo Award. It takes place in a future on the brink of apocalypse, where the dying sun threatens to extinguish all life on earth. The United World Government opts for an audacious plan to physically move the entire planet to orbit a safer, distant star.
Insane? Possibly. But U.S.-based Sciencefiction.com contended, "That's the fantastic and fascinating premise ... and it's an idea so crazy that it might just work."
At a cost of around 50 million U.S. dollars - a hefty price tag for a Chinese film - and an astonishing four-year production schedule and a crew of 7,000, "The Wandering Earth" is China's most ambitious sci-fi film to date.
"We are very proud of our production team on 'The Wandering Earth.' This film represents a big step forward for Chinese production capabilities and our ability to create global appeal," Lou Xiaoxi, Vice Chairman of Beijing Culture, told Xinhua.
Beijing Culture has been on an enviable winning streak with previous box office favorites including "Wolf Warrior 2" and the incandescent "Dying To Survive." It is emerging as one of China's leading studios, largely due to its eye for good material and their willingness to take the risks needed to envision and launch new genres.
"The Wandering Earth" has become the winner of the Chinese box office during the week-long Spring Festival holiday that ended on Sunday, taking in a huge 1.94 billion yuan (288 million U.S. dollars) in just six days. The success of the film in the box office is a clear indication of the growing popularity of homegrown sci-fi in China.
The film attracted a lot of attention outside of China for being China's first big budget sci-fi blockbuster, a genre that Hollywood tentpoles have dominated for decades.
Deadline Hollywood (deadline.com), a popular industry news website, reported that, "Word of mouth has been strong and buzz continues."
The Verge.com contended, "The Wandering Earth has all the hallmarks of a big, Hollywood-style genre movie: it features a dramatic story of the Earth in peril, complete with eye-popping scenes of spaceships escaping Earth ... It could be China's breakout sci-fi blockbuster film."
On the U.S. website IMDB.com, the movie has a score of 7.9 out of 10, averaged from over 3,800 viewers, as of Wednesday. Some IMDB users hailed the film as "the best science fiction movie from China," "an epic science fiction movie," "a rare gem in the field of sci-fi," and "fantastic story and graphics."
One of the users, shellingf7, said the film "Could be better but it is definitely worth watching."
"The visual effects are impressive and goes well with the story. The story is not everyday Hollywood style: Superhero saves the day; everyone else is there to give a round of applause," wrote another user.
"Well, this movie has a lot to improve for sure. But I still give it a 10/10," wrote user Sylph_R, noting that the film is "great movie and a great point of view to know more about Chinese culture."
"The movie actually shows lots of differences between American culture (Hollywood movie) and Chinese culture. For example, I'll accept sheltering spaceships in Hollywood movies when Earth is no longer good for human survival. But in Chinese culture, we will never leave our home. We will try our best and bring everyone together. This is what we saw in the movie: we put 10,000 engines on Earth and run away together," wrote the user.
"If China can put out a quality sci-fi picture similar to a Hollywood blockbuster, like 'The Wandering Earth,' then there is real opportunity for it to connect with global audiences and compete successfully for worldwide box office release," said Jeff Most, an American film producer best known for "The Crow" film series, adding that the film demonstrates a promising future for big screen theatrical releases from China in the United States.
"In the past, Chinese movies have been arthouse releases and prestige pieces. VFX-heavy tentpole pictures have not been the norm. But high-quality, studio-style Chinese sci-fi and action adventure movies are likely to be well-received in the global marketplace," he told Xinhua. VFX is the abbreviation for visual effects.
"Audiences hunger for more diverse material. And global streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube are pushing us to become more open to subtitled material," said Most.
"U.S. audiences want to see diverse films from around the world, particularly sci-fi and blockbuster VFX movies that appeal universally and are designed to be seen on the big screen," he added.