Thinking about “The Wandering Earth”

“The Wandering Earth” got some scathing reviews in the West, despite being a genuine blockbuster in its home market of China.  Critics frequently pan blockbusters, so there may be nothing here, but perhaps there is a deeper cultural bias at work. It made me wonder about the application of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the effect of linguistic styles on movie making.

Chinese written script is derived from pictographs; individual characters derived from an image originally.  You can imagine Chinese written language as a sequence of tiny highly stylized complex emojis, a series of small discrete images strung together.   Good Chinese calligraphers are concerned about the aesthetic qualities of each character; they write a sequence of beautiful individual words.  Western calligraphy is more concerned with the aesthetics of letters that have no meaning — they are simply standardized shapes, strung together to make words.  The beauty of an individual handwritten word, as an entity unto itself, is relatively unimportant, compared to, for example, the continuous flow and ornamentation of the line.

If we apply this abstract aesthetic to movie making, it may be that there is a subtle difference between movies made in the West and movies made in China. Think of a movie as a series of discrete scenes, strung together to make a story.  Perhaps it is the case that a Chinese film maker would tend to construct a movie as a series of discrete, individual scenes, with less emphasis on the flow of elements between scenes.

Anyway, this occurred to me while watching “The Wandering Earth”.  It’s firmly within the genre of Sci-Fi-Fantasy blockbuster, like the endless Marvel movies.  The special effects were suitably over the top, the story was suitably simple, the acting suitably melodramatic.  I liked it.  But I do think there was, to Western taste at least, a bit of a chunky character to the story line…

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