FOR more than two weeks, Chinese science fiction film The Wandering Earth has topped the country’s box-office chart. And it is still going strong.
Recognised as China’s first big-budget, sci-fi blockbuster movie, it opened in cinemas nationwide on Feb 5 and has since raked in more than 4.43 billion yuan (RM2.7bil).
It also caught the attention of American moviegoers although it was screened at limited theatres in the United States.
Online entertainment service Netflix also bought the rights, according to China’s national news agency Xinhua. No release date has been announced yet but the company said it would be translated into 28 languages for global audiences.
The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Liu Cixin, the first Chinese to win the Hugo Award, which is for sci-fi and fantasy writing. He won in 2015 for another book titled The Three-Body Problem.
Helmed by young director Guo Fan, the movie tells the story of a plan to use giant thrusters to move the Earth away from the dying sun, which is threatening to extinguish the solar system.
Starring Wu Jing, Hong Kong actor Ng Man-tat and a list of unknown performers, the US$50mil (RM201mil) movie took a crew of some 7,000 people four years to complete.
It has been praised for its bold imagination, but critics say the plot was “too crazy”. However, The Wandering Earth still earned a rating of eight out of 10 points on Douban, a popular Chinese film and TV rating site.
Its two-week stay at the top of the chart ended soon after the Feb 22 debut of the James Cameron-produced Alita: Battle Angel.
Although the Chinese movie industry can now proudly say that it too can make world standard sci-fi titles, Guo admitted that they are still 25 to 30 years behind Hollywood.
In an interview with Xinhua, the 38-year-old thanked moviegoers for their “kind tolerance”.
“It’s not that they couldn’t see the flaws of our production, but they didn’t complain much. We did our best and this is the level that we could reach for now,” he said with a humble smile.
Going to the movies is not a cheap form of entertainment in China. Tickets can cost over 100 yuan (RM61), depending on the quality and location of the cinemas and the type of movies.
In big cities such as Beijing, a film ticket costs an average of 40 yuan (RM24.50). In second-tier cities, it is 30 yuan (RM18.50).
I love movie marathons but since coming to Beijing, I’ve been to a cinema only twice – for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend in China.
I’m just unwilling to fork out a lot for a movie. I paid 55 yuan (RM34) for a group ticket to the Hollywood blockbuster and got a free pass to Lee’s film at its premiere in Beijing.
When shown in Beijing cinemas, Hong Kong’s Cantonese films are generally dubbed in Mandarin, which is another reason that has stopped me from going to the movies.
As of last week, The Wandering Earth was the second highest grossing movie in China, after Wolf Warriors 2, whose box office receipts is nearly 5.68 billion yuan (RM3.48bil).
In third place is Operation Red Sea, followed by Detective Chinatown 2, Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid and Dying to Survive.
Movies from The Fast and Furious franchise are the only Hollywood productions that have made it to the Top 10 list, with FF8 in 7th spot and FF7 in 10th.
Chinese films on the chart have one thing in common – they feature not-so-popular actors. This is perhaps a signal to Chinese moviemakers that the public still favours high-quality productions with talented artistes.
Chinese filmmakers usually fancy hiring young and popular celebrities who are better known for their looks than their acting skills.
In an unexpected development after the success of The Wandering Earth, author Liu sparked controversy when he revealed that the novel was mostly written during working hours when he was an engineer at a power plant in Shanxi province.
“Everyone has a computer and no one knew what each other was doing behind the screen. People only saw you concentrating and busy typing, which was a good attitude at work,” he said in an interview mid-last month.
But no action can be taken against him as he has quit the job.