By Brian Z. Liu Cixin’s 2015 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel was listed today as one of China’s top ten cultural events of 2015 by Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China.
The rocket-shaped trophy shared space on the state news agency’s top ten list with the Chinese film industry, which earned praise for a record 2015 box office of $6.8 billion, making China the world’s second largest film market. By the end of 2017, the Los Angeles Times reports, China is expected to surpass North America as the largest movie market in the world.
The first day of the Year of the Monkey (February 8, 2016) will see an unprecedented number of Chinese genre blockbuster releases, including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny” (trailer – US release on February 26), Stephen Chow’s fantasy comedy “The Mermaid“ (trailer), and “The Monkey King 2” (trailer), a fantasy film inspired by the Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West. “Kung Fu Panda 3” (trailer), co-produced by Dreamworks and China Film Co., opens in both China and the United States a week before the holiday (January 29).
This first day of the Lunar New Year will also see the release of China’s first English-language sci-fi action flick, “Lost in the Pacific“ (trailer), written (together with Peter Cameron) and directed by Vincent Zhou. Starring erstwhile Superman Brandon Routh and Zhang Yuqi, who also stars in “The Mermaid,” the film is set in the year 2020 and tells the story of passengers on an inaugural luxury transoceanic flight who meet with an unspeakable terror. Later in 2016, China Film Co. has announced, comes another sci-fi thriller, “The Arctic,” about humans under attacks from mysterious creatures.
“The Three-Body Problem,” aka “3Body in 3D,” is expected in July. December will bring director Zhang Yimou’s science fantasy adventure “The Great Wall,” starring Matt Damon, Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, and many more. Set a thousand years in the past and shot on location in Qingdao in northeastern China, it is, at a reported $135-150 million, China’s most expensive film to date.
“The Great Wall” is a product of Legendary Entertainment’s partnership with China Film Co. Earlier this month, Variety reported that entertainment and real estate giant Dalian Wanda Group Co., owned by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, was in talks to buy a significant minority stake in Legendary. Wanda owns Wanda Cinemas, bought the US AMC Entertainment in 2012, and is building China’s largest studio complex in Qingdao. Last year, Japanese SoftBank Corp. also said it is investing an initial $250 million in a minority stake in Legendary.
Zhang Yimou said at a press conference in July that although “The Great Wall” is fantasy, his film is still about Chinese culture.
“China doesn’t have many stories about fighting against monsters. This time I will do it with Chinese cultural messages and make it outstanding and unique, and allow the whole world to experience China and its culture,” Zhang said.
“But the biggest pressure for me is to make it understandable for everyone, not just Chinese audiences, but young people all over the world.”
Liu Cixin, First Financial reported today, feels less than optimistic about the success of Chinese science fiction as literature, at least in the near term. “Few writers, a small number of works, little influence, in 2016 there will not be any change,” he said.
But Liu Cixin sees 2016 as the first year of the Chinese science fiction movie. With the concurrent release of so many SF films after so many years of preparation, he believes, the success or failure of films like 3Body will either allow the trend to continue or bring it to a screeching halt.
Liu Cixin expects to spend 2017 working on adapting the rest of his trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past. Rights have been sold for other works by Liu Cixin, “The Era of Supernova,” “The Wandering Earth,” “The Micro-Age,” “The Rural Teacher” and “Of Ants and Dinosaurs,” and the first two are said by China Film Co. to be in the pipeline. However, the author is not sure at what level he will participate in those projects. The public and market attention can be a blessing and a curse, he says, “which has to be properly handled, to give yourself time and energy for creation.”
Over the past five years, film options for science fiction stories have gone from as low as ¥30-50,000 ($4,600-7,700) to over ¥1,000,000 ($153,500) – and Liu Cixin notes this trend may continue in 2016.
According to Global Times, the industry research institute Entgroup has listed Remembrance of Earth’s Past as the most valuable IP out of all traditional publications in China. But Liu Cixin’s goal, he told China Youth Daily, is to inspire young people to enter the field of aerospace. “Liu Cixin is already China’s Clarke and Asimov,” that paper concurred, “but China still needs the appearance of its own Elon Musk.”