I liked The Great Wall much more than I thought I would.
Director Zhang Yimou has made some of the most ravishingly handsome films to come out of China, including “Raise the Red Lantern”, “House of Flying Daggers“, and “Hero“, movies that are lavishly sensual in their use of color and light. The film is to this date, the biggest ever co-production between China and Hollywood and features some of the most accomplished actors and martial-arts experts in the business. The film’s producers, however, might say Damon is simply earning his salary – and it will be money well spent if the bankable star helps “The Great Wall” become as popular overseas as it is in China, where it has earned roughly $170 million. This film is director Zhang’s first purely English-language project and is the most expensive film in Chinese history. “The Great Wall” also stars Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau. Instead, he plays a traveler in search of valuable materials who gets mixed up in the chaos of the Great Wall’s defense against fierce, other-worldly creatures.
The problem is that director Yimou Zhang relies on too many goofy shots like it’s 2007 and 3D is something none of us have ever seen before.
Damon plays William Garin, a Westerner searching for gunpowder (mystically referred to here as “black powder”) who stumbles across a mysterious beast and cuts its arm off in battle. (That their eyes are on their shoulders doesn’t seem to make them any easier to beat.) But there’s a reason this film keeps getting compared to the Beijing Olympics: It’s heavily invested in the military aesthetics of crowds. Very little of The Great Wall is emotionally resonant, but it’s all rather pretty. If you are a fan of high impact movies like World War Z, then this film should be on your list to see this weekend.
With acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou directing and Damon starring, “The Great Wall” would seem to at least promise to be an intriguing artifact, a movie that would, even in failure, illustrate something interesting about the culture clash it’s predicated on. There they are saved by Chinese bow men and taken into the confines of the wall.
Damon’s man-bunned mercenary – who hails from Ireland, Scotland or MA, depending which line he’s chewing on – joins the fight against the CGI nasties in a succession of medieval melees.
“The Great Wall” is absolutely big.
Amid the film boycotts due to the controversy of casting Damon – whose unconvincing Irish accent wavers throughout the film – as the lead in a predominantly Chinese cast, he doesn’t do well in justifying the casting choice. But considering that he’s not always a believable action hero when he’s not playing Jason Bourne, it sure doesn’t help matters when, in The Great Wall, he’s portraying a character who mostly sails through the air in slow motion firing arrows at passing monsters. They end up captives of the Nameless Order, and William discovers the honorable man within thanks to some exposure to one of their highest commanders: Lin Mae, played by the eerily handsome Jing Tian. Then he goes and says things like, “They need us here”. But both sides soon have more on their minds as they’re under attack by the Tao Tei, bloodthirsty lizard monsters of legend from the nearby mountains that rouse themselves to attack every 60 years.