The highly anticipated sequel to Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth is being readied for a Chinese New Year release, defying a recent trend of last-minute approvals.
Despite the timing of the release having previously been indicated, the date was reconfirmed at a press conference during the national Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival in the coastal Chinese city of Xiamen, underscoring the Chinese authorities’ commitment to positioning the film as a must-watch tentpole.
The Wandering Earth 2 is set to open on the first day of the lunar new year – January 22, 2023. Director Frant Gwo (better known as Guo Fan in China) and star Wu Jing, both from the original 2019 film, attended the event alongside Hong Kong star Andy Lau, who will make a special appearance as a scientist in the upcoming film.
The event, which lasted more than 90 minutes, also introduced the rest of the cast on stage including Li Xuejian, Ning Li, Wang Zhi and Zhuyan Manzi, while actor Sha Yi, executive producer Song Ge and novelist-producer Liu Cixin made a virtual appearance.
State-run China Film Company is a presenter of the film together with Gwo’s own outfit Guo Fan Culture and Media and Wu’s outfit Beijing Dengfeng International Media. The film also has a long list of almost 20 financiers including Alibaba Pictures, Wanda Media and Huayi Brothers.
The “early” release endorsement is an unusual move, defying the recent trend of both Chinese and foreign films failing to secure a date well in advance from the Chinese film bureau. For the October 1 Chinese National Day holiday, also a golden box office week, four new “main melody” titles - Home Coming, Ordinary Hero, Steel Will and Born To Fly - were only officially approved for release just seven days before their September 30 opening.
Even with a secured release date, Born To Fly, which some netizens have dubbed the Chinese version of Top Gun as it celebrates the Chinese air force, was abruptly cancelled on September 27. By the time of its withdrawal, it was the frontrunner at the box office, with over $4.67m (RMB33.6m) ticket sales pre-sold.
The week-long National Day holiday turned out to be one of its weakest in recent years, failing to revive the already lacklustre box office. The Chinese box office has grossed $3.9bn in 2022 as of November 13, down by 35% year-on-year according to theatrical consultancy Artisan Gateway. With only seven more weeks of the year remaining, it is highly unlikely to match the success of 2021 when box office in China recorded $6.6bn (RMB47bn) and topped the US as the world’s biggest box office for the second consecutive year.
Chinese New Year is a highly coveted release period. The first Wandering Earth was described as China’s first sci-fi blockbuster and became the country’s highest grossing film of all time following a Chinese New Year release in 2019. It ranks as China’s fifth highest grossing film of all time, having taken $661.6m (RMB4.68bn).
The Wandering Earth was based on a short story written by Liu who is at the forefront of Chinese science fiction. In 2015, he became the first Asian to win the Hugo Award for his novel The Three-Body Problem, which is being adapted into a series by Netflix.