Tencent has released the first trailer for its take on Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin’s epic novel “The Three-Body Problem,” sparking comparisons between the local adaptation and the Netflix version also underway.
The book is the first in Liu’s Hugo Award-winning trilogy about humanity’s first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.
Tencent’s adaptation is directed by Leon Yang Lei (“The Red”) and stars Zhang Luyi (“The Red,” “The Devotion of Suspect X”), Yu Hewei (“Cliff Walkers,” “Crazy Alien”), Chen Jin (“All is Well”) and Wang Ziwen (“Ode to Joy”).
The web series began shooting in July 2020 and doesn’t yet have a specific release date, but is currently expected to hit sometime next year. Liu himself told the local press last month that Netflix is to start shooting the series this year, and that “China might release the series sooner” than the Hollywood version.
The new Tencent trailer opens with an exchange between two off-screen male voices.
“Have significant accidents ever happened to you in your life?” one asks. “No,” the other replies. “Then your life is a sort of accident,” the first continues. “But isn’t that the case for most people?” the second voice asks, and the first responds, to a backdrop of ominous music with deep foghorn-type blasts that would feel at home on the “Tenet” soundtrack: “Then most people’s lives are all accidents.”
In a final line, a woman’s voice says: “This is the end of humanity.”
‘Netflix’s Nonsense Version’
Tencent nabbed the rights to adapt the story into a TV series way back in 2008. Now, its version is entering a crowded playing field.
There are at least two other “Three-Body Problem” adaptations in the works in China, including a film backed by IP rights holder Yoozoo Group that may have fallen permanently to the wayside and an animated take from Gen Z- and anime-leaning platform Bilibili.
Netflix struck its own deal with Yoozoo to create an English-language adaptation, announcing the project last September. The American version is being co-created by “Game of Thrones” big shots David Benioff and Dan Weiss alongside Alexander Woo (“True Blood”), and will be directed by Hong Kong’s Derek Tsang (“Better Days”).
The streamer recently announced 12 cast members, about a third of whom are of Asian descent. The casting choices have led to some backlash among Chinese fans, who are upset there aren’t more Chinese faces.
The original novel is set almost entirely in China and follows mostly Chinese characters at a period when foreigners were a rarity in the country. The inclusion of so many foreign cast members has led many to express concern that the story will no longer be set primarily in the Middle Kingdom, potentially shearing the tale of its cultural and historical specificities.
“‘Three-Body’ is a story full of Chinese elements told by we Chinese from our Chinese perspective and ways of thinking …to express Chinese people’s values, worldview and view of the universe. These things are very hard for foreigners to express — only we are able to do it,” wrote one popular comment in response to Tencent’s Weibo recent post about the new trailer.
It was outranked by the top comment, liked 27,000 times. It read: “Buck up — you better not lose to Netflix’s nonsense version.”
While nationalist users maintained that only a Chinese production could capture the essence of the story, the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution, which could pose a problem for censors in a Chinese retelling.
On that front, Liu’s material may find itself caught between a rock and a hard place, a few noted. “With the background of the Cultural Revolution, the mainland doesn’t dare shoot it and foreign countries can’t shoot it well,” one Weibo poster lamented.
Most fans said they were looking forward to Tencent’s adaptation, but many expressed concern that the China-made series wouldn’t be able to hold its own when it came to the necessary special effects.
“Netflix has its strengths, and locally produced works have their own advantages,” wrote one commenter tried to calm down a passionate debate. “The audiences for each are different.”
Watch the trailer below.