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Space Dream


Liu Zhibing (center) dreams of space in Space Dream.

Chinese: 飛天  
Year: 2011  
Director: Wang Jia, Shen Dong
Producer: Bai Jingjun
Cast: Liu Zhibing, Niu Li, Jiang Ruijia, Wu Gang, Zhao Xiaoming, Jin Xin, Li Youbin, Ma Xiaowei, Yu Bo, Xu Jian, Wu Qijiang, Wang Jing, Zhang Xiaopei, Feng Enhe, Bai Qing, Wang Lan, Wan Siwei
The Skinny: Earnest paean to the CCP space program that's so cheesy and unflinchingly positive that it actually becomes charming. Not for cynical audiences, but patriotic films seldom are.
by Kozo:

The Space Dream is a movie about astronauts and soldiers, and nobody ever smokes. Seriously, not a single person lights up during the course of this 110-minute patriotic film, so you know just how mired in fantasy this fawning look at China's space program really is. At the same time, Space Dream surprisingly diverges from the "CCP is awesome" dogma one expects from a film that so prominently waves the national flag, and reserves its strongest sentimentality for the image of one man who struggles to realize his personal dream. Now that's an idea that anyone, anywhere can get behind. Space Dream is a throwback to earlier, simpler filmmaking times and will seem exceptionally backwards to a modern and cynical audience. However, the film’s unflinching, cheesy optimism also makes it refreshing and difficult to dislike.

Forty-something astronaut Tiancong (Liu Zhibing) has been passed over numerous times for space duty, forever finding himself on backup duty with his partners and friends, Dawei (Wu Gang) and Guanxiong (Zhao Xiaoming). Tiancong's steadfast determination inspires others, but it's also a source of difficulty for wife Qu Dan (Niu Li), who wishes that Tiancong were at home more often and not off chasing the stars. Getting on in years, Tiancong re-ups for the space program anyway, sticking around to train a group of youngsters while his old partners head on to business or military jobs. Meanwhile, his family, including his daughter and ace military pilot Siyu (Jiang Ruijia), continues to support his quickly fading dream. Tiancong’s last shot is a mission is of exceptional importance; it involves docking spaceship Wentian I with a satellite to establish China's first manned orbital space station. Will Tiancong get picked to pilot Wentian I and finally realize his space dream? Or will he be stuck on backup duty again?

Space Dream has no bad guys. Everyone is portrayed positively, excepting the mildly boorish American astronaut trainees, who meet Tiancong's group at a Russian space camp and complain that everyone should be speaking the "international language" of English. Besides that, the conflicts are largely duty versus family, with understanding and affirmation easily achieved. This is a bright, shiny China with blue skies and green grass, and people are forever laughing, slapping each other on the back or sincerely kissing each other’s asses. This results in amusing subtitles like, “This brother is super cool” and “He is a truly excellent guy,” so there’s a bonus. Frustration and anger are directed towards fate or circumstance, and absolutely not towards other people, and when obstacles crop up, they can be overcome with strong effort and solid teamwork. The film's darkest moment involves Tiancong's mother (Bai Qing), who reaches the nadir of her health while he's off training. Still, everyone is understanding and supportive of Tiancong's absence, and when Dawei visits in his stead, the result is surprisingly poignant.

The visual effects are not Hollywood-level, but they’re solid and manage to complement the film’s use of stock footage from real aeronautical training. Space Dream spends much time with its trainees, showing us their trials as they prepare for space careers. While inherently educational, the scenes are never boring, nor do they pander to some amorphous, greater entity (hint, hint: China). Characters and values are quite square; Liu Zhibing has the bland integrity of a Zhang Hanyu knockoff, and Niu Li lends stalwart support as his wife. As Tiancong's daughter, Jiang Ruijia is exceptionally winning in that her cheery, dimpled smile never ceases. Likewise, direction from Wang Jia and Shen Dong is unerring in its workmanlike simplicity and efficacy, and Ye Xiaogang’s score is appropriately bombastic. Surprisingly, the film never talks about China’s greatness. There's actually a moment where Tiancong can thank the CCP for everything, but he demurs and it's an earned moment that qualifies as a reward for those cynically waiting for a China-fluffing finale. Space Dream lacks edge, but it's got purpose, heart and an earnest, do-right attitude that’s impossible to knock. Well, you could try, but it would just be mean. (Kozo, 2011)

  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen