It was, very obviously, only a matter of time before we started to see Hollywood, or Western, stars in Chinese films. The Chinese film industry has long harboured a desire to take on Hollywood at its own game and so will bringing in Hollywood big-shots like Matt Damon and Willem Defoe and Pedro Pascal, mean they manage it?
The Great Wall sees Damon (The Martian, Contagion) arrive at the Great Wall of China with sidekick Pedro Pascal (The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones) claiming to be a trader, although he’s really after Black Powder.
There he finds a huge army awaiting some form of attack from some form of monsters. He also finds Willem Defoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Platoon), who arrived some 25 years earlier looking for Black Powder. The main people in the army are Tian Jing (Kong: Skull Island, Policy Story: Lockdown) and Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, House of Flying Daggers) and Hanyu Zhang (Assembly, The Message).
Some fighting takes place, both at the wall and away from it, lots of people die, lots of green monsters die, they find a way to stop them, Matt Damon has to save the day, everyone goes home happy.
Let’s start with the good. The effects are a step up from anything we’ve seen outside Hollywood. The monsters aren’t great but not bad, the hordes are well done and the wall itself is perhaps a little ‘clean’ but otherwise nicely done. The filmmakers were denied permission to film on the actual wall so the whole thing is digital.
The storyline isn’t anything special but I’ve seen a lot worse, from both Hollywood and China. Writers and story are by: Carlo Bernard (Narcos, Prince of Persia), Doug Miro (Narcos, Prince of Persia), Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Films, Rogue One), Max Brooks (World War Z, Saturday Night Live), Edward Zwick (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Last Samurai) and Marshall Herskovitz (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Last Samurai).
Directing the whole thing is given to Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers). With all those writers and Zhang in charge of the camera, you wonder how much of an actual ‘punt’ this has been to see if a Chinese film can ‘break’ the American market. It’s not really, is it?
There are some pretty funny moments in the film, mostly coming from Pascal. Jing is very good which makes her underuse in Kong: Skull Island even worse. Defoe isn’t in it much and I’m not sure the character is quite right for him. Damon is his usual stony-faced self although he is attempting some kind of accent which seems to come and go throughout. I can’t quite place it but it sounds almost like he’s trying to be Irish. I started to wonder if Liam Neeson had been offered the role at first.
Anyway, the obvious backlash started when Damon was announced, with one writer stating that: “…it was “cultural misappropriation” for a Caucasian, Western nation-born actor (Damon) to be presented as the driving force behind the Great Wall’s construction, when the majority of it was led and done by Chinese civilians.”
If there’s one thing I didn’t take away from the film it was that anyone was involved in the building of the Great Wall, that’s not even touched on, unless I blinked and missed that bit. What I’d be more annoyed about would be the fact that an American, doing a bad Irish accent, is depicted as the one who saves the day, then rides off into the sunset.
That would annoy me greatly.