Published: Sun, February 19, 2017
Culture | By Henry Herrera

The Great Wall Tries to Usher In the Era of Globalized Blockbusters


Impressive visuals are no surprise considering the source, director Zhang Yimou, best known in the West for the gorgeous "Hero" (2002) and "House of Flying Daggers" (2004). Matt Damon leads the cast and is joined by Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang, and Andy Lau.

New movie "The Great Wall" is based around the notion that China's famous fortification was created to keep out horrifying creatures.

The mediocrity of "The Great Wall" stems from its by-committee creation, with six credited writers and funding from four studios - including one owned by the Chinese state. "From this perspective, it makes little difference whether the enemy is people or monsters".

Matt Damon stars in The Great Wall. Top dog is the hardened mercenary William Garin (Damon) and his battle-scarred Spanish buddy Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal). Still, if nothing else, the film is an intriguing example of blockbuster movie making now truly being done on a global scale - but like most bold prototypes, it's not without its flaws. Yet while The Great Wall's white savior narrative is undoubtedly problematic, the film actually succeeds in providing unprecedented visibility to an Asian cast in Hollywood.

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So, I'm walking through my local multiplex previous year and, imagine my surprise, when I come across a poster for THE GREAT WALL, Matt Damon's giant white face taking up about 80 percent of the surface area and dwarfing China (and I'm assuming Chinese people, not that I could see them they were so small) at the bottom corner. And it was one of thousands who attack every 60 years, intent on destroying China before devouring the rest of the world.

There may be no tangible evidence the Taotie really existed, but to the people of ancient China, they were very real indeed.

THE Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese/Hollywood co-production ever, with a budget of over 150 million dollars. Anytime a semblance of character development was about to occur, it was interrupted by some inane dialogue with the commander or threat of yet another attack from the "Tao Tei". Though it provides a decent historical explanation for his presence, "The Great Wall" devotes an inordinate amount of time to justifying itself and comes off as the filmmakers bending over backward to serve a potential American audience. Those two scurry off to initiate a subplot while arrows fly, spears puncture, and red and green blood gushes.

And yet, The Great Wall still manages to be an entertaining - if not very deep - adventure that delivers on its fantastic, monster-fighting premise. "I fight to eat", confesses William, whereas a female Chinese commander, Commander Lin (Jing Tian), is a dedicated patriot (although China's young emperor is shown as a quivering coward). I think diversity does reflect the world we live in and should be as accessible to us in terms of what we have in entertainment. Nobody was watching from up there back then, but it's kind of a joke, I guess, a reference to the not-true "fact" that the wall is the only human-made object visible from space.

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