Directors: Yimou Zhang
Running Time: 104 minutes
Main Cast: Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Tian Jing and Andy Lau
The sound of clunking of armor and weapons rings throughout the film, and The Great Wall clunks in every area from start to finish.
The plot follows two European mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) who are in search of black powder in China when they stumble upon The Great Wall of China and an army installed to defend it against a horde of monsters called the Tao Tei.
The Great Wall is the first Chinese/American co-production, directed by Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers 2004) with this being his first venture into Western Cinema market, and this first coproduction might not be the greatest starting point.
It stars a mix of western and Chinese actors. With Matt Damon (William), Pedro Pascal (Tavo) and Willem Defoe (Ballard) casted because of their star power in the west as a way to draw in western audiences, while Tian Jing (Commander Lin Mae, Special ID 2013) and Andy Lau (Strategist Wang, Infernal Affairs 2002) are used for the Chinese audience attraction.
The stars performances are pretty average and of the caliber of both Western and Chinese actors present in the film they can do better. They are simple ploy to attract the masses to view the film; if there performances were better it would lift the films quality slightly.
With a budget of $135 million it is the most expensive Chinese made film ever and you can see why it costs that much. But you can also tell that the budget got to the head of Zhang and his production team as they went all out with the production value of this film and at times it overheats the already clunky script. It felt throughout the movie that Zhang had an unhealthy obsession with the use of close up, tracking camera shots and slow motion, often combining the three as you follow a close up shot of arrow(s)flying through the air in slow motion. At first it looked extremely cool and visually pleasing, but after the third or forth time it just losses it’s sense of being cool and became overused and tacky.
Adding to the overuse of slow motion in almost every scene was the shaky plot lines and clumsy dialogue. We are first introduced to main characters William and Tavo as they try to escape the northern clans; it takes about half an hour into the film before we establish their reasoning for being in the area. From there the mindset of the pair shifts and William wants to stay and fight, while Tavo, assisted by fellow westerner Ballard try to steal black powder to better themselves. This plot to steal the powder shifts from being the main plot line becoming a sub plot, as William decides he wants to stay and fight beasts he has known for a little less than 2 days. It all feels jumpy and crisscrossed and just doesn’t flow entirely well, causing you to lose interest in the main goal of the film.
The script doesn’t add at all to these plot points as it feels clumsily written and the actors feel like they are forcing emotion into every line, whilst every now and then trying to inject humour, to lighten the mood. As the film progress the weak and weirdly structured script becomes more bluntly obvious to you and it becomes a serious downer for the film.
There are few positives to come from this first US/Chinese coproduction, which are its costume design and the CGI beasts called Tao Tei. The costume design is focused on colour coordination with uses of black for common soldiers, Red for archers, blue for extravagant women fighters and yellows for common hands and foot soldiers. All of which blend together atop the wall in a visually pleasing manner, it is a wonderful sight for the camera to glide atop the wall and see all these colours coordinated.
The Tao Tei look ugly and menacing, showing they are not a beast to be reckoned with and somehow portray a sense of intelligence and development over a short period of time, with 3 varieties of the monster being shown, the common drone monsters, a drill neck lizard like monster and the queen monster. All look out of this world, ugly and unique, creating a sense of disgust, dislike and fear upon seeing them.
Overall The Great Wall is a film that has too many negatives to be considered a successful beginning for US/Chinese coproductions. It’s weak script, clunky plot lines, clumsy dialogue and over use of tracking, close up and slow motion, drain out the beautiful consume design and awesomely scary looking Tao Tei. It’s the false start in what looks to be a new area of expansion in the film making landscape; hopefully the next coproduction is of better quality.
The Front Row Opinion