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Film Review: The Wandering Earth (2019) by Frant Gwo

Based on the novella of the same name by Locus Award and Hugo Award-winning author Liu Cixin, “” became China's second highest-grossing film of all time, 2019's third highest-grossing film worldwide, the second highest-grossing non-English film of all time, and one of the top 20 highest-grossing science fiction films of all time.                     

In the future, the Sun has aged and is about to turn into a red giant, pushing the nations of the world to consolidate into the United Earth Government, a world government, to initiate a project to move the Earth out of the Solar System to the Alpha Centauri system, in order to preserve further human civilization. Enormous thrusters running on fusion power are built across the planet to propel the Earth. Human population is reduced severely due to catastrophic tides that occur after the planetary engines stop Earth's rotation, and later as the planet moves away from the Sun, much of the surface is frozen due to lowered temperatures, forcing humans to live in vast underground cities built adjacent to the engines.           

In this setting, we meet the protagonists of the film. Liu Peiqiang, a Chinese astronaut, is about to return to Earth to meet his son, Liu Qi, and his adopted sister, Han Duoduo. The two of them, however, have other plans, and soon escape to the surface, but soon end up in prison, where they meet another prisoner named Tim, and are about to be saved by their grandfather, Han Zi'ang. At that moment, as Earth passes by Jupiter to make use of gravity assist, the planet's gravitational spike causes devastating earthquakes that disable many thrusters across the globe and pull the Earth dangerously close. The four escape amidst the chaos and attempt to make their way out in Han Zi'ang's truck, but the truck is requisitioned for a rescue mission by a military rescue team; they are to transport a lighter core, an engine component, to restart the planetary thruster engine in Hangzhou, supervised by soldiers led by Wang Lei. Expectantly, nothing goes as planned and the crew ends up being Earth's last resort before total destruction.

Shooting a destruction movie that takes place in an Earth that is roaming around space was a great idea, and managed to make the most out of it, allocating the majority of the $50 million of his budget to the visuals of the film, with great results. In that fashion, the combination of SFX and Michael Liu's cinematography is sublime, and along with the overall design of the vehicles, the backgrounds and the various settings results in a genuine eye candy.

However, “Wandering Earth” is not just about visuals. The combination of Frant Gwo's excellent direction and Cheung Ka-fai's frantic editing result in a true extravaganza, as the relentless pace and the continuous action carry the movie for the whole of its 125 minutes, without allowing its audience to relax even for a minute.

Of course, the “issues” of the blockbuster are also here, with the lack of logic (not to mention complete disregard for the laws of physics), the “thin” characters, the clichés, and the overall lack of depth (the father-son relationship issues do not save the movie in that aspect), but the action is so elaborate, that in the end, those issues do not matter.

Not much more analysis for this one, if you enjoy sci-fi blockbusters look no further, one of the best of the latest years is here.

About the author

Panos Kotzathanasis

Panagiotis (Panos) Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer, specialized in Asian Cinema. He is the owner and administrator of Asian Movie Pulse, one of the biggest portals dealing with Asian cinema. He is a frequent writer in Hancinema, Taste of Cinema, and his texts can be found in a number of other publications including SIRP in Estonia, Film.sk in Slovakia, Asian Dialogue in the UK, Cinefil in Japan and Filmbuff in India.

Since 2019, he cooperates with Thessaloniki Cinematheque in Greece, curating various tributes to Asian cinema. He has participated, with video recordings and text, on a number of Asian movie releases, for Spectrum, Dekanalog and Error 4444. He has taken part as an expert on the Erasmus+ program, “Asian Cinema Education”, on the Asian Cinema Education International Journalism and Film Criticism Course.

Apart from a member of FIPRESCI and the Greek Cinema Critics Association, he is also a member of NETPAC, the Hellenic Film Academy and the Online Film Critics Association.

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