Review: The Wandering Earth

The Wandering Earth is perhaps the most highly anticipated Sci-Fi film in Chinese cinema history. It stars Wu Jing, who was also the star and director of China’s historical blockbuster Wolf Warrior II, as well as Qu Chuxiao and veteran actor Ng Man-tat.  

Earth’s sun is at the threshold of going nova. In a mere 100 years it will explode and destroy the solar system. Faced with inevitable extinction, humanity comes together to create the Wandering Earth project. A series of giant thrusters are built to break the Earth out of its orbit and propel it on a centuries-long journey to a new star system. Half the population, selected by random drawing, is sent to underground cities as the Earth’s surface turns into a frozen wasteland.

A space station is built and launched ahead of the Earth to act as its navigation system. Liu Peiqiang (Wu) leaves his young son on Earth to join the first crew of the space station for seventeen years. During this time his son Qi (Qu) grows up in one of the underground Chinese cities.  Just as Peiqiang is about to conclude his service on the station and return to his son, both he and Qi are thrust into the middle of a desperate struggle to stop the Earth from colliding with another planet and once again save humanity from extinction.

While the idea of relocating the Earth to another solar system may be novel, it’s hard to ignore the common apocalyptic Sci-Fi clichés in the movie such as humanity moving underground to escape destruction, the parent leaving a child behind to embark on a long space voyage and the philosophical scenes of deciding what to do when you can’t save everyone. However, there’s enough quality graphics, powerful acting and plot twists that you can forgive some of the more predictable elements.

As with most any science fiction movie, the discerning viewer will likely question how much the premise of the movie conforms to the laws of physics. They might also question the realism of two fellow astronauts having seamless conversations with each other while one speaks nothing but Chinese and the other nothing but Russian. Scientific and linguistics discussions aside, The Wandering Earth is a profound depiction of the eternal struggles man faces against nature, technology, society and even himself. From beginning to end, characters fight on and cling to hope when there is no logical reason to have any.

Adding to the drama is the presence of Chinese New Year, irrefutably the country’s most important celebration. The film was released on China’s New Year’s Day and the climax of the story takes place during this holiday. Wu’s character very accurately describes it as “a time of reunion” before issuing a call to action by saying “I don’t want this to be the last reunion.” The message being, perhaps, that to save our planet and secure the future of our children, there’s nothing we shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice.  

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