China’s sci-fi tradition is mostly in novel form, but it occasionally makes it way to screens big and small
For those of you outside the loop, today is one of the World UFO Days (June 24 being the other). July 2 is celebrated due it being the supposed date that the Roswell Incident occurred.
In China, UFOs are not an extinct species. There have been many cases of sightings and other phenomena attributed to otherworldly forces. Unfortunately, despite local acceptance, science fiction in China is not a concept that has reached maturity.
Historically, there have been Chinese novels that tackled science fiction. With the recent global success of Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series, this trend seems to be on the rise.
However, this upturn has not translated well to the screens. Both TV and film science fiction is still lacking, with most producers preferring the genres of wuxia and fantasy for their dose of something different.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t anything for sci-fi fans wanting something more visually stimulating—just that the quantity and standards involved will vary wildly.
So to help you complete your perfect World UFO Day celebrations, here is a collection of Chinese science fiction films to suit every mood.
Here at TWOC, we like to start off with the good news. And that comes in the form of CJ7 《长江七号》 by Hong Kong director and Shaolin sports advocate, Stephen Chow.
Unlike most of his other films, Chow does not play the main character. The story instead focuses on his son who is enrolled at a private school that they can barely afford. Economic discrimination and hardship cause pain for the two. Then one day, the son comes across a new toy in the trash which soon unveils a peculiar looking alien which he keeps as a “pet”. Hilarity and hijinks ensue in classic Chow fashion.
Part-cyberpunk, part-commentary on the future of gaming, Amazing 《神奇》 tells the story of China’s top gaming programmer, a virtual reality basketball game, and hacking.
It stars Huang Xiaoming, who you may know as the husband of Angelababy, who in turn was that random Chinese woman in Independence Day: Resurgence. On the plus side, filmmakers did manage to invite NBA stars Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, and Scottie Pippen to appear in the film, so…there’s that.
Science fiction doesn’t always have to be about some faraway land or high-concept idea that many lay-people struggle to understand. Sometimes it can be just a single change and its effect on daily life.
Dislocation 《错位》 is a film from 1986 and tells the story of an engineer who, after being promoted, fashions a robot clone of himself to take his place in meetings.
Happily ever after?
Not likely. As one can imagine, comic situations arise from this decision.
Full disclosure: Some of the films on this list have not been viewed by this writer. Of the ones that have, Future X-Cops 《未来警察》 is definitely the one that causes the most conflict.
Generally speaking, Future X-Cops should be seen as a horrible example of Chinese filmmaking and, in particular, special effects, despite the fact that the release was delayed in order to improve this aspect. The plot is your standard time-cop fare. Criminals travel back in time to kill someone, so the police send an individual to travel back and apprehend them.
It treads perilously close to “so bad it’s good” territory, but no final decision has been made as of yet. We’ll leave that one up to you.
Those with strict schedules and no time for feature-length films should consider two Chinese short films with a total running time of under 30 minutes that you can stream for free.
Planet Unknown 《印象深刻的》 is a short animated film that Shawn Wang made as part of his senior thesis at the Communication University of China. It takes inspiration from the robots in Interstellar and Wall-E, and tells the story of two robots visiting planets to see if they are able to inhabit life.
Hibernation 《冬眠》 is 2012 short about a man who wakes up from hibernation on a spaceship escaping from an apocalypse. He finds that his sister is not beside him and soon the ship comes across trouble.
The one bright spot in China’s sci-fi future is in the hands of Liu Cixin and his Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. The film adaptation of the first novel was originally slated for release in summer 2016, but was then delayed until 2017.
Now, it seems that October 1 will the day that Three Body 《三体》 will be available for cinema-goers. No official trailer has been released yet, but there is a teaser of sorts available—though it uses weird comic-like animation, which is unlikely to be in the final product.
Have we missed out any Chinese sci-fi gems? Let us know and tell us your favorites in the comments below.
Images from Mtime