Monsters and Black Powder

The Great Wall

Director: Zhang Yimou

Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Tian Jing, Lu Han, Eddie Peng, Kenny Lin

Chinese director Zhang Yimou has contributed immensely to Chinese cinema and that of the world. His exceptional films include Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern which won the Bafta for Best Foreign Language Film back in 1993. His more recent works include Hero, Flowers of War and more recently Coming Home.

Almost all of Yimou’s films are in Chinese featuring an oriental cast yet after he made Flowers of War with Oscar winner Christian Bale it was only natural that Hollywood would court him with the lucrative offer of making a Big Budget action film. The Great Wall starring Oscar winner Matt Damon and Chilean actor Pedro Pascal recently seen in HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones has been ridiculed for its casting and its implausible plot.

Yet despite all its detractors, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, a historical fantasy epic is still breath taking to be hold even if the script and the acting needed some rescuing. Damon and Pascal play European mercenaries who land up at the Great Wall of China only to be imprisoned by Commander Lin played by Tian Jing. The Europeans so oddly out of place in ancient China especially when Pascal’s character Tovar keeps on saying amigo are embroiled in an ancient battle against the Tao Tse, vicious monster like creatures which periodically attack the historic fortification.

Damon stars as William and Pascal plays Spanish mercenary Tovar who join the fight aided by a desire to steal gun powder from the Chinese and take back to Europe to bolster the many continental wars raging far away in England and Spain. Instead they are unwillingly co-opted by The Nameless Order to fight these savage beasts and protect the ancient Chinese city from being invaded and destroyed.

Whilst the battle sequences are breath taking and the fight sequences are watchable, this is by no means Zhang Yimou’s best work. Perhaps he should stick to an all Chinese cast and rather do imperial films about ancient China which he was so brilliant at directing especially the visually spectacular Raise the Red Lantern.

The Westernization of this great Chinese director is not good if The Great Wall is anything to go by. Whilst the action fantasy film is enjoyable it’s by no means brilliant.

And what was Matt Damon thinking? He did The Great Wall after The Martian, which as in both films he is equally out of place in. Even Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of a Vampire) looks bewildered in The Great Wall playing Ballard, a double crossing European trader who is only after the Black Powder.

Despite all the monsters and lavish battle sequences, director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall only scores a 6 out of 10 which doesn’t bode well for future Chinese American co-productions especially considering that this film bombed at the North American box office.

On the up side, The Great Wall remained number 2 on the South African box office for a second consecutive week.

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