Image from Trailer Addict
I watched The Great Wall earlier this week and I’ve got to say I’m disappointed (as you can already tell from the title). Beyond the whitewashing and the white savior undertones, this movie is just really not up to Zhang Yimou’s standards. I’ve watched his movies growing up and I loved them. This movie has little of his style and even littler of the type of story he’s known to create. Frankly, it feels like a superhero film or some other generic action film. There’s no originality within it and everything just feels rushed. You know it’s a bad movie when, at the end, you can’t really recount what happened and felt that the last hour or so passed by really quickly. That’s what I felt after watching this.
I’ve seen some people blame the director for this and I don’t think that’s fair. He’s a Chinese director in the American film industry which means he doesn’t have much leeway when shooting this movie. There were also several prominent Chinese actors that were in the movie that got minimal screen time. I think this is all just a case of executive meddling. Hollywood is trying to reach out to a Chinese audience by using famous Chinese celebrities and a critically acclaimed Chinese director but that’s it. The director gets little room to exercise his creative potential and the actors are given few lines and even less screen time.
And this was on top of the fact that the film’s events are completely fictional. As far as Chinese culture goes, there’s little to see here. There’s no clear link between the movie and any Chinese dynasty (although you can estimate when the movie should have taken place because the wall has been finished for at least two millennium). There’s nothing that’s really uniquely Chinese (Perhaps the hot air “balloons” might count a little?). I mean, they can’t even get the monsters’ name right. It’s tao tie not tao tei and they don’t look like green versions of Avatar’s viperwolves. And the taotie didn’t come from a meteor like in the movie. The movie’s green lizards just look like any other generic alien monster.
And then, there’s Matt Damon that’s there just to sell to the American audience. He teaches an army that’s been battling these monsters every 60 years how to defeat said monsters. There’s a bit of something going on between him and the Nameless Order’s top commander. And then, he also gets something to say about his buddy’s greed and Western capitalism. Overall, William’s just a really swell guy, isn’t he?
The CGI effects in the movie aren’t really bad, but it is kind of excessive and unnecessary. Everything’s very dramatic but nothing seems to be well-thought-out. The Crane Corps are doing little against the tao tie and the mortality rate is staggering. I don’t even know what the Deer Corps do. (I guess they’re messengers or something? I just know they have horses.) The Death Squad can easily be replaced by hot tar or some other classic medieval siege weapon that would be more effective. And what the heck are rotating scissor blades doing on the Wall? Heck, I thought the flaming cannonballs were pretty cool but scissor blades? Come on! You’d think that they would already have learned that their tactics aren’t very effective from earlier attacks. Maybe that’s why the monsters can dig a huge tunnel through the wall and no one noticed until the next day.
Final grade: C-