Frant Gwo, director of "The Wandering Earth" franchise, has revealed that a third installment of the popular sci-fi epic is already in the works, following the success of the second film in China and other markets.
Director Frant Gwo and a poster of his film "The Wandering Earth 2" in a combination picture. [Image courtesy of China Film Group Corporation]
According to Gwo, the production cycle could take up to four years, just like the previous films. "In half a year, we will conduct market research to discover any problems in 'The Wandering Earth 2' so that we can fix and improve them in the future follow-up film. Furthermore, we will continue to refine our technical process," he said.
During a recent stop in Wuhan as part of a 12-city meet-and-greet roadshow, Gwo revealed he already had an outline for the third film. "I will later talk to our science consultants to figure out how to materialize it," he said.
Since its debut on Jan. 22 on the date of Chinese New Year, "The Wandering Earth 2" has been a major box office hit in China, grossing more than 3.76 billion yuan ($548 million) as of Thursday. The film has also enjoyed limited releases in other countries, including the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, earning over $10 million overseas. It hit China's Hong Kong on Feb. 9 and has planned releases in more countries and regions in March.
An epic prequel to the first film
"The Wandering Earth 2" is not a sequel but rather a prequel to the first film, which was released in 2019 and grossed 4.7 billion yuan ($690 million) at the box office, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time in China and the most influential Chinese sci-fi film ever. Gwo explained to China.org.cn that he wanted to explore a more global perspective in the prequel and further explain how people worldwide form a union to face an unprecedented crisis and decide to leave the solar system.
A still image shows actor Wu Jing protecting the character played by actress Wang Zhi in an explosive scene from "The Wandering Earth 2." [Image courtesy of China Film Group Corporation]
Additionally, the director wished to honor actor and director Wu Jing, who played a pivotal role in the first film. "Wu provided us with a lot of selfless help in the first installment, including bringing in investment and providing his acting, but his character died in that film. I wanted to show gratitude to him, but I didn't want to write some unconvincing plot about his resurrection. So, I said, let's do a prequel."
Bringing Wu back required the development of cutting-edge technologies to make the actor look younger. The de-aging technology was also applied to Hong Kong megastar Andy Lau throughout the movie. In a touching tribute, Gwo's team even created a CGI version of the character played by the late actor Ng Man Tat, who starred in the first film but died in 2021.
An original and ambitious creation
Though based on a novella by the world-famous sci-fi writer Liu Cixin, "The Wandering Earth 2" is actually an original story by Gwo and his scriptwriters, including his long-time friend, producer, collaborator, and screenplay writer Gong Ge'er. It also delves into the idea of digital life, where individuals can transfer their consciousness to digital platforms, allowing them to continue living even in the face of Earth's impending destruction. During a TV interview recently, Liu stated that the film's plot has little to do with his original writing anymore, but he praised and blessed it.
A photo shows actors posing with robots, machinery and vehicles on a set for "The Wandering Earth 2." [Image courtesy of China Film Group Corporation]
With the vision of making the film as realistic as "a documentary from the future," as Liu suggested, the film's crew invited 20 science consultants from the fields of astrophysics, theoretical physics, artificial intelligence, and earth science to help with the scientific details.
"The Wandering Earth 2" was undoubtedly a huge industrial and ambitious film project. The crew made 95,000 props, 5,310 concept art designs, 9,989 storyboards, and more than 3,300 visual effects shots. They built 102 sets and 17 studios totaling 58,000 square meters. Moreover, the film had a cast and crew of over 1,189 people and more than 22,000 extras.
Support from central state enterprises
China's central state enterprises in key sectors also contributed a lot to the film, including robots, quantum computers, 3D printing and heavy industrial equipment. Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group (XCMG), a leading heavy machinery manufacturer in China, for instance, created custom-made construction and machinery equipment for the film.
Recently, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) also expressed their support for the film on social media, saying, "You are free to imagine as you like, and we will try to turn your dreams into realities." Later, a group of central state enterprises also voiced their support and showcased how similar technologies like those depicted in the film will be realized by them in the future, including China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China Telecom and many more. Gwo said he was deeply touched by the support from state enterprises, pointing out that only a country with great strength can support a strong sci-fi industry.
China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) releases an image supporting "The Wandering Earth 2." [Image courtesy of CNNC]
A massive team involving global effort
The film's central theme is about people working together worldwide to solve problems and fight for humanity's future. Therefore, the team used more than 17,000 foreign actors. "We had teams in the U.S., Colombia, France, and Iceland working with local actors. I wanted to show other countries convincingly, and from a more grand and diverse perspective, demonstrating how people around the world react to a global crisis," Gwo told China.org.cn.
The director's story became so big that he had to cut more than 80 minutes of content as a result. However, the final cut still came in at 173 minutes. In the future, Gwo said, a special extended cut is possible, as many fans have requested.
"Meanwhile, we still have a long way to go for film industrialization," the director admitted. "I thought we had accumulated some experience after we did the first installment in 2019, but when we started working on the second one, we found that we had to start from zero again. The changes and improvements invited a lot of new challenges we had never encountered before."
The cast and crew pose for a photo with guests and audience members at a Beijing event for "The Wandering Earth 2" on Feb. 2, 2023. [Photo courtesy of China Film Group Corporation]
Gwo recalled how he hired 20 students and put them in different departments to report any errors they noticed. In the end, the reports were stacked 40 to 50 centimeters high.
Gwo noted that his passion for sci-fi and film kept him motivated. "I will keep moving forward against all odds to the direction and destination I love and long for. Wu Jing told me when we made the first film that it didn't matter if we failed, but we could at least be paving stones, paving the way for those who come in after us and showing them which way is right and which is wrong."