How far will 'sci-fi fever' go in China?
“Sci-fi fever” has become a buzzword in Chinese film circles in recent years, especially after the huge success of “The Wandering Earth” in early 2019.
The blockbuster garnered over 600 million U.S. dollars in box office revenues, making it the second highest grossing Chinese film. The author behind the movie – Liu Cixin – has once again been put under the spotlight.
A poster of "The Wandering Earth," which is considered the first China-made sci-fi blockbuster. [File Photo: VCG]
Liu, a hydraulic engineer and writer, started to write sci-fi books in 1985 and has published nearly 40 novels over the past three decades. He won the acclaimed Hugo Award in 2015 for his long novel “The Three-Body Problem,” becoming the first Chinese winner in science fiction literature.
Liu Cixin “dominates” sci-fi market in China
Liu’s masterpiece “The Three Body Problem” has been adapted into film, stage plays, animations, online games – and possibly a TV series in the future. His other novels, such as “Crazy Alien” and “Doomsday Salvation,” have also been adapted into films.
For industry insiders like Yang Feng, former deputy chief editor of Science Fiction Magazine, Liu’s popularity among the audiences doesn’t represent a prospective market for sci-fi literature in China.
“Actually we have many other excellent sci-fi writers, but the market only chases after Liu Cixin,” Yang said during an interview with Beijing Youth Daily.
“‘The Three Body Problem’ was hot 10 years ago, and remains the hottest in Chinese sci-fi literature. It’s not the ‘sci-fi fever’ that I think should be,” Yang remarked.
However, Chris Bremble, founder of Base FX & Base Pictures – a three-time Emmy Award winning visual effects and animation company – thinks differently.
“Just as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the catalyst in the U.S. in 1977, Liu Cixin is the catalyst at the moment,” Bremble told CGTN. “It will take time to see the pattern and see the changes in the market, but this is the beginning.”
Money matters in shooting sci-fi films
It’s never been cheap to create superheroes, alien worlds and stunning explosions as special effects require large amounts of financial support.
The blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” had a strong backing of 356 million U.S. dollars. It took 237 million U.S. dollars for James Cameron to make the 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar.”
“Movies that scare or challenge us – and sci-fi films traditionally do both – are products of a good economy,” Bremble told CGTN.
Sci-fi films didn’t emerge in the U.S. until the 1950s, when the country’s economy created a lot of opportunity and stability, he added.
The huge investment required behind the sci-fi genre may explain why Liu’s works are popular among movie investors as they can reduce risks by investing in something the general public is familiar with.
More “professional” sci-fi works needed in China
Except for the milestone movie “The Wandering Earth,” many domestic Chinese sci-fi films mix many non-sci-fi elements, including romance and comedy. A slew of audiences complain on social media that they’d like to see some “real” and “professional” productions in this genre.
Speaking at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival, Frant Gwo, director of “The Wandering Earth,” said that the movie industry in China is decades behind Hollywood both in film shooting and post-production.
He said that with more sci-fi films being made in China, industry insiders will have a clearer idea of how to make films in this genre.
Several domestic sci-fi movies will hit the cinema in the second half of 2019, including “Pathfinder,” “Shanghai Fortress” and “Warriors of Future.”
“No one owns creativity. I expect this (“The Wandering Earth”) is only the beginning,” Bremble told CGTN.