The Great Wall: Monstrous myth of epic proportions

March 11, 2017


The Great Wall (M) 

Rating: 3 / 5 


Apparently ‘The Great Wall of China’ wasn’t built to keep the rabbits out (as we were told some years ago in a clever TV commercial), but rather hideous, destructive, lethal lizard-beasts were the pesky invaders. 

That’s according to the new Chinese-American epic fantasy co-production The Great Wall, the first co-production of its type, with a reported budget of US$150 million.

With the likes of Matt Damon as the star it’s not difficult to jump to the conclusion that this is yet another case of a ‘Hollywood whitewash’ where the westerner rides in to save the day or at the very least make the story somehow more palatable for universal audiences.

For the record, this isn’t the case (and personally it was a good lesson in not judging a movie by its poster!).

Two European mercenaries, William Garin and Pero Tovar (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal), are on the hunt with a ragtag bunch of colleagues for a mysterious ‘black powder’ (gunpowder) which is worth a fortune and has the potential to change the face of human battles forever (this bit is marginally historical). 

After being set upon by a mysterious ravenous creature, the two escape relatively intact and are captured by ‘The Nameless Order’, a crack team of warriors in colour-coordinated battle dress who occupy the wall. The warriors are setting up for battle against a wave of tens of thousands of destructive Taotie. 

The legend states that they emerged from a green meteor 2,000 years previously and then turn up every 60 years to feed themselves and their ravenous queen.

The Chinese warriors are highly skilled and totally committed but the Europeans are deft hands with a bow and arrow and save some significant lives, thereby being accepted by their captors. 

They take a shine to the handsome and brave Garin, especially Commander Lin (Tian Ling) who leads a formidable team of female, acrobatic assassins. Because of the priority of the battle, their romantic connection is restricted to the odd sideways, knowing glance in each other’s general direction and some platitudes about the importance of honour and trust.

The director is the celebrated visionary Zhang Yimou, known previously for the brilliant Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers and the principal cinematography was by New Zealander Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano, Alice Through the Looking Glass). 

The story and its execution feel a bit too clean and contrived, but overall this is a fun introduction to a hopefully ongoing collaboration between Eastern and Western filmmakers.

In order to enjoy The Great Wall it’s best to abandon all traces of disbelief and be prepared to go with the spectacle, which includes a huge cast, massive sets and exquisite costumes. For this reason alone, be sure to see the film in 3D. The 3D IMAX version was spectacular.  

Highlight: pure escapism, the spectacle

Red flags: fantasy scenes, violence 


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