As sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth continues to climb China’s all-time box office records, the astronaut-focused, Earth-saving film’s director recently opened up about some of his influences and why he thinks the film resonates with audiences even more than Hollywood genre.
In conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, director Frank Gwo — whose film adapted a short story by the Hugo Award-winning Liu Cixin — explained that he’s been a longtime fan of genre movies.
“Back in the 1990s, I saw James Cameron’s Terminator 2 and that had a big influence on me,” Gwo said. “It was then that I first made the wish to become a director of science fiction. I've spent the years since studying the genre and preparing for this.”
“We can give those kids the sci-fi bug, and enlarge their imagination and reverence for science. A James Cameron movie planted that seed in me, but now more children in China can have that experience.” And China as a country was already quite receptive to sci-fi films, with movies like Crazy Alien already topping the box office charts while Hollywood fare such as Interstellar and The Martian had strong showings.
But there’s a big difference between having a strong showing and setting the all-time record for highest-grossing film. So why did The Wandering Earth click so well with moviegoers? Authenticity to culture may be key.
"When the Earth experiences this kind of crisis in Hollywood films,” Gwo said, “the hero always ventures out into space to find a new home, which is a very American approach — adventure, individualism. But in my film, we work as a team to take the whole Earth with us. This comes from Chinese cultural values — homeland, history and continuity."
There were also other factors: The film opened on the first day of Chinese New Year and mere months after the Chinese space program landed a probe on the dark side of the moon. With a combination of savvy specificity in its craftsmanship and a nice dollop of “right place, right time,” The Wandering Earth could very well hop from its current place as China’s second highest-grossing film of all time to the first.