Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang，Kitten Wang
In 2015, Interstellar won the Visual Effects Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards, and its opening day box office in China was 37.3 million RMB. Douban (China’s largest arts & literary review web site) users rated the movie a 9.1 (out of 10). In fact, sci-fi movies have long crossed national borders and cultural barriers with their charisma and daring, winning over plenty of Chinese audiences. In the past few years, many Chinese film-makers have also begun to explore producing sci-fi movies to the delight of movie and TV viewers.
In April of 2014, the action flick On Line was created as the first attempt in Chinese sci-fi filmmaking. Based on a computer game, the movie described a super gamer’s journey to a simulated world where he became trapped inside a cruel battlefield. He eventually discovered that the game’s cycles of life and death were sinister bargaining deals for time, as the protagonist and his crew began an epic fight to save time for humanity. When the movie was released the following January, many viewers described the movie as having “fake-looking special effects,” and was “a video game with a sci-fi cover,” and gave the movie a box office of only 443 thousand RMB.
The failure of one sci-fi movie has not dampened Chinese filmmakers’ enthusiasm for this genre, however, in August of 2015, The Three-Body Problem, a novel by Liu Cixin, the “top sci-fi writer of China,” received the 73rd Hugo Awards for fiction, and the movie version is being made for a July 2016 release. Yet, as soon as the movie trailer was shown online, great controversy followed. Many users complained that the trailer was nothing more than a series of GIF images with loud background music, making one wonder if this was a movie or an animated online game. Meanwhile, a 15-minute short titled Waterdrop received great reviews; the story came from a scene in Three Body II: Dark Forest, right before the Three Body aliens’ waterdrop sensors beat the human naval fleet. The short film’s POV switched from micro to macro, had plenty of philosophical musings, and carried enough weight with its intricate CG details and voice overs. Some even commented that if the movie version had three-tenths of the short film’s quality, it would be a success.
Based on these two movie experiments, it may seem that the making of Chinese sci-fi movies faces very serious challenges, but there is hope from the recent years of exploration. One original web series, Falling Down, was launched quietly in March of 2015. The story portrayed how a tiny mistake in history could create giant shifts in the future time-space continuum and even lead to human destruction, and followed a group of supernatural beings traveling through time to find the most accurate and best version of the future.
No one could have predicted that the low-budget production would elicit such a strong following among Chinese sci-fi fans. It was praised as a well-produced domestic sci-fi drama, surpassed ratings for the popular American show Heroes, as well as winning the 2015 Most Innovative Web Show Award. As viewers eagerly await the release of Season Two of Falling Down, it is fair to say that there will be many more high quality Chinese sci-fi offerings in the future.