Unsurprisingly, The Wandering Earth 2 has been a blockbuster since its release on the first day of the Chinese New Year, taking in an eye-watering 2.9 billion yuan in 11 days, breaking 36 records and achieving 91 milestones in Chinese film. Ever since the genre-defining The Wandering Earth established China as a truly viable producer of large-scale and ambitious sci-fi films in the spring of 2019, sci-fi film production has truly taken off in China and matured itself with numerous mind-blowing attempts in film and television with works such as The Cataclysm and the newly-released Three Body TV series.
Directed by Frant Gwo and based on Liu Cixin's novel, The Wandering Earth 2 is a prequel, the backstory that leads up to the first film. The rapidly expanding Sun is devouring the entire solar system, posing imminent crises and existential threats that put mankind on the brink of extinction. To cling to the chance of survival, people start looking for solutions under the leadership of the United Earth Government, but their plans to save humanity begin to diverge and conflicts between different parties arise, mainly around the hesitation between the Moving Mountain Project which aims at moving Earth away from its current solar system and the Digital Life Project that looks to preserving human consciousness on computers. Clinging to the belief that "A civilization without men is meaningless", China insists on supporting the former one despite mounting tensions and succeeds in feasibility trials that convince the rest of the world and unite different nations into one human nation to implement the Moving Mountain Project.
As a sequel, The Wandering Earth 2 is more than just filling for the first film's blanks, connecting plot line dots and unfolding the full picture. In my opinion, unlike most sequel movies, it progresses greatly compared to the first one in terms of aesthetics, imagination, philosophy and cultural depth.
Empowered by stunning special effects and wild imagination, the film offers breath-taking cinematic spectacles full of gigantic spaceships and drone swarm battles and visualizes some of the technological wonders that, in the past, only appeared in sci-fi books such as the "space elevator". It is inspiring to see the huge improvement in the Chinese film industry and film-making technology. Furthermore, the imagination is not groundless, but comes from reality. In fact, China's progress in space technology over recent years has provided fertile soil and many raw materials for sci-fi film creation. In turn, this advanced imagination may even lead to technological development in the future.
If the hard tech is what strikes awe into the people's hearts, the Chinese philosophy behind the scene is what makes people contemplate. We've seen enough western apocalyptic narratives in mega-budget worldwide blockbusters most closely associated with Hollywood productions. But this film presents a disaster story from an oriental point of view, where humans work as a team to face the overwhelming crisis. No hero can save the Earth single-handedly; still, every effort matters. And the international unity and solidarity highly emphasized in the film takes root in the real world and are consistent with China's current attitude and approach in a world of changes unseen in a century.
It is very delicate and sophisticated how Chinese philosophy and culture are embedded throughout the whole narrative, including small details that are subtly woven into the patchwork quilt of the movie, such as the naming of the self-rescue projects. The Moving Mountain Project, for example, originated from an ancient Chinese fable, Yugong Yishan, illustrating the point that one strong-willed man can't move mountains but, as long as generations of mankind work together, nothing is impossible. This is only one of the manifestations of the sincere Chinese wish for a long-lasting human civilization and for Chinese ancient wisdom to be applied in today's world.
Apart from these thoughtful details, more explicit advocates of the Chinese approach toward a world of turmoil are put forward in Zhou's speech about the once-broken-but-healed human femur, "In times of crisis, unity above all. Remember the day that people's courage transcends history". In line with the idea of a community with a shared future of mankind, the film vividly depicts some of the most touching and powerful scenes where senior astronauts of all nations sacrifice themselves to ignite the nuclear bombs, and joint efforts are made in reconnecting the Internet to blast the Earth out of its orbit and off on a hundred-generation wandering journey in search of a new home. United we stand, divided we fall. This is even truer today after the humanities' three-year war against the COVID-19 pandemic, as courage and solidarity are the only way out, in science fiction or in reality.
Indeed, the world is undergoing unprecedented transformations and posing great challenges to every single one of us. I've never been a pessimist, but truly, if we don't see ourselves as one human nation soon enough to focus on matters of life and death such as climate change, but continues starting wars with each other in the name of national security, we are going to be buried in the graves we dig for ourselves before the Earth falls apart. That's why I feel great pride to see that China is shouldering its responsibility in global governance as a major country and plays its part in calling forth peace and unity both in the film and in reality.
Overall, The Wandering Earth 2 is marvelous in many ways, including the outstanding visuals and acoustics, compelling narrative and, most importantly, a much more "universal" human value that raises itself to a whole new level of the same genre. I believe both the Chinese people and the world are awaiting what comes next for Chinese cinema.