Matt Damon Takes on Mythical Beasts in 'The Great Wall'

Peter Castro
February 18, 2017

After making almost $225 million worldwide, the fantasy adventure film The Great Wall is ready for its American debut.

The Great Wall stars Matt Damon as William, an English speaking mercenary soldier, travelling in a mystical land with a his companion Tovar (Pedro Pascal) in search of an elusive black powder which could win wars and defeat mortal enemies. He comes across as just another cog in the special-effects machine. To suggest that he's taking the place of a Chinese actor ignores the fact that there are dozens of homegrown Chinese releases with Chinese casts each year that struggle to find a toehold in the United States, where global blockbusters fall in the gap between arthouses and multiplexes.

The Great Wall isn't great. It transports audiences to a time in history where things may seem easier, but this film shows just how messed up they could be sometimes.

"The Great Wall" is in theatres in the UK, US and Australia now. When you consistently make movies like this, you ARE saying that. Her performance offers little in the way of emotion or depth, and she often seems more comfortable engaging in complicated, aerial fight sequences than in scenes meant to develop her character's back story or relationship with Damon's mercenary.

The Great Wall was shot entirely in China, and is now showing in Scene Xtreme at Nu Metro the Glen - with superb 3D visuals on a giant screen, along with booming 360 degrees sound. Ballard (Willem Dafoe) is a weaselly Westerner long in the Chinese employ, and he, too, desires black powder - and knows where to get it. William befriends Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), leader of the army's all-female Crane Corps, who fearlessly bungee over fields of Tao Tei, stabbing the monsters with spears.

If not, then this one may be better caught on cable.

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Tian Jing in The Great Wall. With the exception of Damon's curious soul who learns every noble thought he has from Chinese people, the rest of the non-Asians are thoroughly loathsome human beings, and in a bit of propaganda that the modern Chinese government will be proud of, the villainous hordes symbolically represent nearly every other kind of outside interest.

That said, The Great Wall doesn't exactly serve to advance Asian American actors or roles.

The rewards for finding a formula that works for Chinese audiences can be great. Once a director of intimate character dramas ("Raise the Red Lantern", "The Road Home"), the Chinese filmmaker has since redefined himself, and distinguished himself Stateside, as a crafter of opulent, gravity-defying martial arts epics like "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers" and "Curse of the Golden Flower".

I was willing him to invoke the spirit of John Wayne in The Conqueror, possibly the worst movie ever made, and declare that "all other women are like the second pressing of the grape".

While I don't regret seeing this film, I had a lot of complaints. Hollywood Reporter writer Pamela McClintock, in predicting that the movie will open in "the mid- to high-teen millions over the four-day holiday frame", wrote that if that happens, it will be "a sobering start, considering "Great Wall" cost $150 million to make". They're also sensitive to magnetism, and you will want to remember both those points because they will come in handy later.

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