The latest action blockbuster starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Jing Tian and Willem Defoe has a slightly different background than your regular popcorn movie. The most expensive Chinese film ever produced The Great Wall could be the first of numerous attempts from China to assert their dominance on the global film industry. Many US produced mainstream movies now live or die on their international gross revenue and China is the most important market for films of the highest budget. This rise now sees China attempting to beat Hollywood at their own game by producing their own content. They’ve enlisted a top dollar American star in Matt Damon, numerous talented Chinese actors such as Jing Tian and the highly bankable Andy Lau whilst Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) is in the director’s chair. If the producers see a reasonable return on their investment then the peculiar image of Matt Damon in the midst of an Asian ensemble may seem less strange in the future as others attempt to imitate its success.
If only The Great Wall was as fascinating on screen as the series of circumstances that have willed it into being. A thoughtless blaze of CGI descends upon the great wall of China and only Matt Damon and his strange array of accents can stop them. A lot of the actors in The Great Wall speak English as a second language so it’s a wonder that Damon talks like it’s also his second tongue. At one point his voice affects an Irish lilt that makes it even harder to take his scenes seriously. The whole concept is silly so it’s not like his accent breaks the believability of the film, this isn’t exactly Oscar Wilde, but it does highlight the ridiculousness that this movie, boasting some of the finest talent China has to offer, includes Damon as a co-lead to make the movie more marketable to a Western audience. The ensemble are all game at least, committed to playing their parts with a straight face. Pascal is fun as a Spanish rogue, Lau demonstrates the kind of effortless charisma that has made him a staple of Asian cinema for the past few decades and up and comer Jing Tian has a natural screen presence that makes it likely we will see plenty of her in the future. The Great Wall is at its best when given over to the exuberant excess of Zhang Yimou, his lush colourful eye and bombastic approach give the set pieces an eye-catching glimmer. However, any sequence that requires more than three lines of dialogue quickly falls to shreds specifically in the opening act with an overuse of close-ups decimating any rhythm to the scenes.
The Great Wall is an overblown cascade that never manages to meet the expectations set upon it by its luscious production design. More of an ardent curiosity than an actual success, The Great Wall has spectacle but little soul.
Dir: Zhang Yimou
Scr: Carlo Bernard, Tony Gilroy, Doug Miro
Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng
Prd: Thomas Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni, Peter Loehr
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Country: USA, China
Run time: 104 minutes
The Great Wall is out now in UK cinemas.