Yet the film struggles from a lack of character development—many of the characters feel so expendable, it’s hard to care when they die. A complicated plot requires lots of exposition in an early voice-over. Like many of the films popular in China—such as the giant shark movie The Meg or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Skyscraper—Wandering Earth chooses CGI action sequences over substantive storytelling, making the two-hour film feel longer than it really is. (Netflix has given the film, which includes scenes of violence and some bad language, a TV-MA rating.)
It’s interesting to imagine what types of creative films Chinese filmmakers could create if they weren’t hamstrung by the Chinese government’s demands to avoid anything remotely politically sensitive. Instead we have high-octane blockbusters like Wandering Earth, which has been endorsed by government officials.
In February, famed director Zhang Yimou’s film One Second, set during the Cultural Revolution, was withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival. The film’s social media account claimed it was for “technical reasons,” but many believe the film was withdrawn for political reasons. When a foreign reporter asked Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying about the withdrawal, she responded: “You should ask the relevant department. But I know The Wandering Earth is a hit—I suggest you watch that.”