The Great Wall Review

By Zita Lam 

Decades after Jackie Chan’s classic “Rush Hour” series, it is undeniable that film makers never lose interests basing their movies in Asian Markets. Movies such as Christian Bale’s “The Flowers of War” (2011), Hugh Jackman’s “The Wolverine” (2013), and Mark Wahlberg’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), have embraced the cultures and landscapes of Asia, respectively in China, Japan, and Hong Kong, but also tell a heroic adventure of a “Westerner”. Unlike the storyline in “Rush Hour”, where Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker star equally in terms of fighting enemies, the theme in Asian Hollywood movies have remained consistent in recent years. Asian characters face an insurmountable challenge and their inabilities, inevitably, requires them to be saved from an outsider. Unfortunately, “The Great Wall” is no exception.
Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Jing Tian, and Andy Lau, this science-fiction film tells a story of the epic war between the Chinese military and alien monsters called the Tao Tie. During the reign of the Renzong Emperor, Western mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are taken prisoner behind the Great Wall while on a journey searching for black powder. Soon enough, they learn that this magnificent fortification was built in preparation for an attack from the Tao Tie who rise every 60 years to feed their queen. Initially, William and Pero showcase their fighting skills and talented tactics, along with Commander Lin (Jing Tian) and strategist Wang (Andy Lau) to successfully defeat the Tao Tie. What they don’t expect is the alien evolved physically and mentally over the years and the war with them is just beginning.
This is the first time award-winning director, Zhang Yimou, produced an English-language movie. This visual masterpiece depicts artistic chinese landscapes in every shot. His sensibility in lighting, space and color contrast adds to the fantastic theatrics of the movie. Whether it is the steady scene of mist on the Great Wall or the full dynamic motions during the war scenes, Zhang’s ability to highlight detailed Asian architecture makes his work one of a kind. The majestic costume design also brings out fiction-like features of the characters. The outfits resemble traditional Chinese apparel refreshing with lively colors. This movies’ creativity is so thoroughly executed that it will help audiences ignore Damon’s awkward accent.
Despite the collaboration between Chinese and American productions, “The Great Wall” still follows the typical storyline of Hollywood stars saving the world. But, the authenticity of the balance of Asian and Western cultures in this film stands out from the others. For example, characters spend a reasonable time speaking in their own dialect other than English; the plot doesn’t force the leading actor and beautiful actress to fall in love in order to create romantic scenes; “The Great Wall”shows a decent amount of Chinese military strength instead of just only embracing the Hollywood stars’ supreme position. While “The Great Wall” follows a common theme that audiences have experienced before, director Zhang Yimou keeps detailed elements of majetic Chinese culture and landscapes that will surely amaze the moviegoers throughout this action packed film.