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The late late review of The Wandering Earth 2 that no one asked for | Following the yuan
There's no need to read this late review unless you wonder why some Chinese call 'spy balloon' the 'wandering balloon'. Plus, my review of reviews at the end!
I never thought I’d go to the cinema to see The Wandering Earth 2, a Sci-Fi blockbuster that reached 310 million yuan (US$45.8 million) today after showing for about two weeks and was ranked the 2nd in China’s Spring Festival holiday box office.
I particularly did not want to watch it for two reasons, one is it’s played by Wu Jing, the guy who embodies every heroic character in recent Chinese movie history because he’s a favorite of President Xi Jinping, as rumors say. He’s known as the Wolf Warrior guy, a 2015 war movie that later became the synonym of China’s foreign diplomacy attitude. Yes, that guy.
The initial reaction of viewers and domestic media were also off-putting. There are clips going around featuring a man making an emotional and patriotic speech about how good it is in the cinema as the end credits rolls, then there are articles that put it on a pedestal simply because it’s an ambitious Sci-Fi made in China.
The doubled nationalism on and off the screen did not leave me a good first impression, but I was curious to see what a nationalist Sci-Fi could look like, and was ready to take notes about its cringeworthiness.
Surprisingly, it was much more globalist than I imagined.
The main storyline is this: to save humans from annihilation with an expanding sun, a United Environment Government, the UN-like body in the movie, set on a path to jet off earth from the solar system.
A lot of languages are spoken in the movie; this is a world where people from different countries can communicate freely with devices that do simutaneous interpreting. I appreciate the director let that come across instead of having bad voice over. It also got an immediate push back from my patriotic dad, who whispered, “If China rules the world, why doesn’t everyone speak Chinese?”
I quietly wept over the montage at the 11th hour, where asteroids began to destroy the world’s landmarks from Paris to Tokyo, before the planet was saved by a united team of astronauts from different countries. Oh do I love humanity.
I cried hysterically inside but tried to minimize my movement on the outside because I thought it’d be embarrassing for my parents to see. My mom was snoozing and my dad constantly checked his phone so I hope neither saw that.
The movie follows two main characters: a data scientist starred by Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and Wu’s role as Major LIU Peiqiang.
The one with a better arc is Andy Lau’s character, we first saw him dream about his young daughter asking “How do I solve this problem?” He woke up, got on a video call with her, in which she said the same thing. We knew something was off but couldn’t be sure.
Soon, in a flashback, we learned that both his wife and daughter died in a car accident when he was the driver. He had a lot of unresolved trauma and nightmares. But he never sought therapy, like men anywhere.
It’s good but a bit corny. Lau’s character reminds me of Westworld S4 (RIP) that I knew no one’s watched. In it, Aaron Paul’s character, who already died some years ago but lived on as clones, wanted to see his daughter so much that each version of him paved the way for the ones after themselves. (I also cried there.)
In The Wandering Earth 2, we learn that Lau’s character iterated the digital version of his daughter Yaya for 900 times, and he was highly motivated to push for the ‘digital life’ plan, which is against UEG’s final decision.
Of course, there is also unsolicited soft power elements: at a space monitoring station, a Black staff plays Chinese Chess on his mobile like an everyday mid-aged man you see on China’s transportation, or at my family’s dinner table, and at the Paris office of UEG, when a Chinese worker mumbled that he wanted days off for Mid-Autumn festival, his white college replied, “I want the kind of mooncakes with meat filings.”
To these self-absorbed scenes, I say: dream on.
I do have critiques. For one, there are unnecessary number of close-ups of surveillance cameras. I first thought it was a foreshadowing, you know, like a friend in rom coms who later becomes a love interest. But no, they are just close ups.
And why do men only get to save the world? Where are the women? I’m not even talk about the Bechdel Test —where films must have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men — let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
All main storylines of The Wandering Earth 2 are written for men, that’s just unnatural and repetitive. The wives of both Lau and Wu’s characters died and the rest of their lives and careers are carried forward by male mentors.
If Wu’s role died instead of his wife, the ending would just be more balanced. But China’s mass market probably won’t let that happen, the male director and producers won’t let that happen, either.
The Wandering Earth 2 was released in the U.S. on Jan 22 just before Lunar New Year, the same day as it was in China. That is five days earlier than the UK and a lot sooner sooner than cinemas in Hong Kong and Macau, which only would be showing tomorrow.
If they let women play a bigger part, it may actually win more praises on the global stage. I’m just saying.
Other reviews 👀
I hope SCMP could lift its pay wall so more readers get to see this one by its film critic James Marsh:
The Wandering Earth II movie review: Wu Jing, Andy Lau in Frant Gwo’s sci-fi blockbuster prequel (SCMP)
Very thorough review combined with insights of socio-political contexts:
Review: Chinese Sci-fi Prequel “The Wandering Earth II” Offers Epicness Amidst Subdued Times (Cinema Escapist)
I doubt these two authors actually finished the movie:
‘The Wandering Earth II’ Review: It Wanders Too Far (The New York Times)
The Wandering Earth II review – blockbuster Chinese sci-fi prequel veers off course (The Guardian)
Predictable perspective from a Chinese college student:
The Wandering Earth 2: Global vision and Chinese wisdom (China Daily) 🏁
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