Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Zhang Yimou

Stars: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Jing TIan, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Zheng Pei, Pilou Ashbaek, Kenny Lin.

Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall of China?

Image result for the great wall matt damon movie images

The Great Wall of China is about 5500 miles long and took 1700 years to build, and it is often falsely- suggested that it is the only man made structure that can be seen from the moon. But why was it built? Some historians argue that it was to keep the Chinese safe from western invasion and influence. But in this fanciful mix of historical action drama and horror film, the wall was built to protect the Chinese from fiercely rapacious lizard-like creatures from ancient Chinese mythology known as the Tao tei. These reptilian creatures are meant to represent a couple of the seven deadly sins. Every sixty years or so they leave their mountain fortress and attack the wall in an effort to eradicate mankind. There is a suggestion that they may be of alien origin, and they do look like they escaped from a 1950’s B-grade creature feature.

Matt Damon plays William Garin, a roguish European mercenary and expert archer who has come to China in search of a black powder that can turn air into fire (ie; gunpowder). But while camping in a cave one night he and his crew are savagely attacked by a mysterious unseen force. William manages to kill one of the attacking creatures and he cuts off one of its clawed arms in the hope that they can find someone who can identify what it is. Along with his compatriot Tovar (Pedro Pascal, from Narcos, Game Of Thrones, etc) William rides through the remote open plains of China until they come to the immense and heavily fortified structure. There they are taken prisoner by soldiers serving the Nameless Order, a division of the Imperial army whose mission seems to be to guard the wall and repel the tao tei.

William is able to convince the sceptical warrior General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) that he was able to kill one of the feared creatures. When the tao tei attack the wall, William and Tovar join the fight to repel them, thus earning the grudging respect of the Chinese soldiers. William joins forces with strategist Wang (veteran Andy Lau) to try and defeat the tao tei before they devour everyone at the wall and head into the capital. But this time, the tao tei seem to have evolved into a far more intelligent and vicious enemy. It will take all of William’s skill, combined with the massed forces of China’s best army, to defeat this enemy.

William and Tovar also find another westerner trapped inside the Great Wall’s defensive structure. Ballard (Willem Dafoe) has been trapped in China for 25 years and has found a way to survive in this foreign culture. He taught a few of the soldiers, including Saho’s daughter Lin Mae (Jing Tian), the commander of the Crane Corps, to speak English. But while William decides to stay and fight, Tovar and Ballard decide to try and make off with some of the gunpowder and escape.

The Great Wall is a co-production between Hollywood and China, and with a budget rumoured to be around $150million, this is the most expensive film ever shot in China. But it can all be seen there on the screen, with the grand scale of the production, impressive soundscape, some impressive set design from John Myre that creates an entire section of the famous Great Wall, the colour coded costumes for the soldiers, the weapons and pyrotechnics, the hundreds of extras, and of course the CGI generated special effects from Weta that created the rapacious green creatures. The Great Wall was shot with an international crew and the dialogue is delivered in both English and Chinese with English subtitles.

At the helm of this massive production is revered and visionary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, making his first English language film. Yimou is best known for his critically acclaimed and gorgeous looking historical dramas like Raise The Red Lantern, The Long Road Home, etc. But Yimou has also dabbled in the action fantasy genre with films like Hero, starring Jet Li and House Of Flying Daggers. He handles the complex and extended action set pieces well, and there are a couple of visually stunning and exciting sequences here as hordes of the creatures attack the Great Wall in waves and are fended off by the acrobatics of an elite squad. Yimou proves an effective director of big scale action.

Written by a team of writers that includes Max Brooks (World War Z, etc), Tony Gilroy (Nightcrawler, etc), Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, etc), and producer Thomas Tull, The Great Wall serves up a far-fetched and generic but mildly entertaining and diverting mix of action and fantasy. The plot itself is clichéd and fairly lightweight and is not meant to be taken too seriously. The producers are not interested in giving us a serious look into ancient Chinese history or culture. The film does pay homage to the grand traditions of the monster movie though. Some of the dialogue is intentionally clunky and cliched.

Visually the film is impressive thanks to the cinematography of Stuart Dryburgh and Yimou’s regular collaborator Zhao Xiaoding, and they give us some gorgeous views of the vast landscape. It should be seen in IMAX 3D to appreciate its visuals.

The characters are thinly drawn. Damon looks uncomfortable at times, but he still delivers a solid performance, and he convincingly charts William’s transformation from venal mercenary to noble hero as he learns to let go of his initial greed. Tian is strong as the tenacious Commander Lin Mae, and as one of the few female characters she brings a balance to the largely male, testosterone driven action. Dafoe is largely wasted here. Former pop idol Lu Han plays a timid soldier who ultimately finds the courage to become a hero.

The Great Wall is a undoubtedly a bit of nonsense, but this crowd pleaser and popcorn action flick is also something of a guilty pleasure.


Speak Your Mind