ATM: How does ‘The Wandering Earth” differ from a typical Western sci-fi action movie?
MS: It’s kind of a disaster movie. It’s kind of an end-of-the-word sci-fi. In a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s normally two extremes: Either the world on the surface is in great shape and everyone is super happy, while there’s this underlying crisis, or the world is in ruins, like in “The Matrix.” But in “The Wandering Earth” it’s a pretty realistic take. We’re flying away from the sun and shit’s about to go down and everyone’s going to die. And in this movie no one has super powers. One small group represented what I’d say one percent of people would do, which is to try to act brave and change fate. And we experience this through the eyes of a Chinese rescue team. So, no Captain America. No super powers. Just people not giving up; and this sort of “non-heroic act” – well it is a heroic act but not through a single hero – is kind of refreshing in comparison with Hollywood movies.
ATM: Explain how the definition of hope is seen throughout the film.
MS: I think “hope” is a made-up thing. You create it to give yourself an unrealistic chance at succeeding. When MOSS, the computer in the space station, was telling the main astronaut that Earth was doomed, no one really knew about it on Earth and they were still plugging along and trying to do their best. That’s hope. Even when MOSS told Liu Peiqiang, the astronaut, that there was very little chance of survival, just like in “Avengers 4,” Dr. Strange said, “There’s only about a one out of 1.4 million chance that you’ll live.” Whenever there’s hope, you can’t give up. That’s like anything in life.
Our planet is kind of f***ed right now from pollution and environmental problems; we still haven’t cured cancer. Just all sorts of things. But sometimes things do improve. So, trying for the best and not giving up is one of the themes of the movie. Whether or not you know the end result of things – whether it’s lying to yourself or tricking yourself, you just can’t give up.
ATM: How does your character add to the plot summary of Wandering Earth?
MS: First of all, I’m kind of a “cheat” character, because my character doesn’t necessarily have to exist. I’m the director’s friend. He’s a great guy. He gave me this opportunity to be involved in this major film that definitely helped my career. And this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t maintained a good relationship with him and if I wasn’t a helpful and supportive friend to the director. So, in that sense, there’s no sense. It doesn’t make any sense. But I think Tim symbolizes a little bit of internationalism or just shows something other than Chinese people trying to save the day.
My character also represented your average civilian who isn’t ready to risk it all when you have to put your life on the line to save other people. But I [Tim] basically had no other choice but to follow the team because if I were left out on the plains or somewhere else to try to save my own life, I probably would have ended up dead. So, under this situation I joined the rescue team and I understood the severity of the situation. When given a losing hand like this you might as well go all in.
ATM: How prevalent is the genre of science fiction in China or Beijing?
MS: In the film industry, before “The Wandering Earth” it was basically non-existent. Large productions that cost huge sums of money didn’t exist. Whether it was that investors didn’t believe in China’s technology or for whatever reason. There’s this huge budget gap between what Chinese films can pay for computer graphics, special effects and what Hollywood, top-tier, world-class companies charge. So, it was a miracle we accomplished this job domestically with the money we had. Also, from a confidence level, I don’t think Chinese people knew or thought they were ready to have China or a Chinese cultural background or Asian people be the face of science fiction stories, because everybody tends to think that when Earth has a problem that some blonde-haired, blue-eyed guy is supposed to save the day. So, there needed to be a different take on saving the day. Not having super heroes, not having a Chinese Iron Man – just having regular people that the audience could believe in to save the day. That’s the only way that Chinese people could believe in this Chinese sci-fi movie.
ATM: Compare and contrast the speaking and understanding of English and Chinese language.
MS: Chinese is not as hard as it appears. Chinese writing can be difficult if you don’t start it at a young age to learn the rules of the written language, but the spoken language is actually very easy grammatically. I don’t know what there is to say about the contrast between the two languages. I’d say the two languages have their own subtleties. They have their strengths in expressing different things. But the thing that really differentiates the two languages and how they’re spoken and understood is the logic and mentality and delivery of your ideas and your concepts. In English you normally are more straightforward and direct. Whereas in Chinese, you might work your way around and slowly try to ease people into buying your concept or into agreeing with you.
ATM: In 2005, what did you learn about yourself as a person when teaching English?
MS: I learned that a teacher is only a partner, a companion or a mentor for a very short period of time in your life. Whether it’s teaching English or teaching other things in life to your students, they come, and they go. You barely affect them or influence them at all. The amount that is taught or accepted or received depends on the students themselves and obviously the teacher’s competence and their devotion to the job. I realized that like any post or any profession in life, only if you respect it and take it very seriously and wholeheartedly do you leave a legacy. But I was only doing it as a means to get by. So, I realized I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Then I got myself fired and started to look at different options.
ATM: What knowledge of teaching did you subconsciously pick up from your teachers in school or parents?
MS: If you don’t respect your teacher as a
person, you’re likely not going to buy into what they’re teaching. So, I tried
to be a bright, charming person to begin with. Then
I tried to share some knowledge and actually help my students improve their English skills. But I found out that you can’t teach people knowledge. You can only teach people the rules and the ways to acquire more knowledge.
ATM: Express the areas of where the American culture was woven in your life and Chinese cultures while young.
MS: Growing up, Chinese culture is all about fitting in, conformity. American culture is about individuality. I tried to keep some of that individuality while still knowing that one doesn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb and just try to show the world, you’re different. So, I had a moderate dose of both of these cultures growing up. Seeing nationalism and patriotism from the two sides made me realize that both governments, both cultures want their people to have undivided love and support for the countries, without doubting the governments that run the country at all. So that gave me some perspective and made me more of an individual thinker. I see myself as an inhabitant of this planet rather than the bearer of a certain passport.
ATM: How did conversations go when asked about your identity in school, business environments, and general companions?
MS: When introducing myself in China, no matter how I told Chinese people that I had spent the majority of my life growing up in China, or how my dad is Chinese, or how I’m half-Chinese, they basically disregarded it because of my looks, because I looked very non-Chinese to them. No matter what type of explanation in school or in a business environment I made, it didn’t really matter. They would view me as a foreigner. It depended on the open-mindedness of whomever I was speaking to for the person to realize – through conversation and through being around me – that I’m basically kind of a Beijinger at heart with hints of just a regular American dude inside, too. I’m someone who’s kind of straightforward, open-minded, and who dares to speak his mind, which isn’t really a Chinese trait. From the Chinese side, no matter how I explained it, I was still seen as an outsider until I proved myself, but even then, some people never get over the appearance.
However, on the American side, my upbringing did not surprise or amaze people as much as it did in China. But my knowledge and my decision to spend a large amount of time in China seems like an odd choice to most American people. At different age levels, people would act like, “Why would you ever leave America? The greatest place on Earth.” So, I would often have to explain how China seemed like a fitting place for me to build my career and how I think China has its charm.
ATM: As a host, define the elements of public speaking that is used when you are speaking?
MS: One is homework: Understand what you’re presenting. What the tone of the event is. Read the crowd. Own your post. If you’re the host, the M.C., then you run everything. Don’t be nervous even though you are nervous. Just really own the moment. And with my style of emceeing or hosting, I don’t think any occasion should be taken too seriously. But obviously during some moments, yes. But a host needs to show their personality. I like to take things rather lightheartedly. So whatever event it is or whatever occasion, I try to bring this lighthearted air and try to move people that way. Just remain or be yourself.
ATM: How does your character view life in The Wandering Earth?
MS: My character obviously was living according to his own will and did what he wanted and got himself in jail. Obviously, he had his own agenda, his own desires, his own reasons for being there. But eventually he joined a team and wanted to be part of something bigger – wanted to be part of a group, a family.
ATM: Despite your physiological growth as a person, what are four characteristics that will always stay with you?
MS: One is trying to be generous, whether it’s psychologically being caring or financially not being too selfish. Just not thinking too much of money. That’s one. The second one is sharing. Because I do believe that my upbringing has shown me lots of different things that certain people don’t get to experience. And whether it’s sharing things or stories, it’s something that’s very unique to me and I don’t mind sharing what I have. The third one would be being demanding of myself. I feel like I was dealt a good hand in this life and I have high hopes for myself and that won’t change no matter how well I do or how badly I fail. Lastly, I’d say I’m an optimist. I have hope. No matter in what direction our world is heading, I believe that we can all create good and that everyone can possibly enjoy a fulfilling lifetime on Earth and create something that lasts for people in the future.
ATM: What ways did you use your curiosity in exploring the different areas on the Wandering Earth set?
MS: On “The Wandering Earth” set, I used my conversation skills to ask questions and to show interest in other people’s jobs or fields, whether in the voice recording department or the prop department or hanging out in the director’s tent or asking about our costumes or development of the Qingdao studios. In each field, I’d learn a little bit here or there. But more so I was intrigued by how the director [Frant Gwo] saw himself developing as a director. I have a high level of respect for him, for his drive, for his work ethic and I hope I can be involved in as many movies as possible, so I really want to understand what drove him as a person, what sort of films he was interested in.
I even wanted to understand why he chose to give me such a great opportunity. So, I’m a people person. I used my curiosity to try to get to know as many people as possible in depth. These conversations didn’t happen as much as I wanted to, but I definitely got to know some people and make some friends and I’m very fortunate for that.