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`The Great Wall’ Melds Hollywood Production Values with Asian Elements

`The Great Wall' Melds Hollywood Production Values with Asian Elements
PHOTOGRAPH: Jing Tian | The cast of `The Great Wall,’ which recently premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

The Great Wall, the adventure film topbilled by American actor Matt Damon, finally premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Boulevard, California. A collaboration between Chinese and Hollywood companies, the movie had been anticipated as a tough sell even as it melded Hollywood production values with Asian elements.

The big-budget film that reportedly had a budget hovering from P$135 million to $150 million has had its fair share of controversy. There was much criticism on the casting of a white man to play the role of the mercenary soldier leading a massive Chinese army into battle.

Nonetheless, Damon stated in interviews that the film was a “thrill of a lifetime” for him. Though it took a longer time to finish the movie compared to most of his movies — given all the special effects and the scale of the film project, the Jason Bourne actor was not about to let the opportunity to work with esteemed director Zhang Yimou pass.

The Director’s Memorable Films

Zhang Yimou’s name is associated with various critically acclaimed films to come out of China over the last three decades. Among these are House of Flying Daggers, an engaging ninth-century drama that featured Andy Lau as a Chinese police officer and Zhang Ziyi as the blind dancer and skilled fighter.

Yimou also directed 1994 film To Live. Because it touched on the pervasive influence of the Chinese Communist apparatus, the movie was banned in China, but it earned first a wave of positive reviews from critics across the world and won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes.

Film Bridges Cultures

Director Zhang Yimou stated that his newest film project, The Great Wall, can be a “bridge between 2 cultures.” Discerning individuals have noted that the film really sought to pander to viewers outside China.

The celebrated filmmaker in China realized early on that given the film market, the only way to ensure the success of a film for international distribution was to frame the movie as a Chinese story packaged with Hollywood trimmings. The downside was the backlash that came with the big question on why the central hero had to be a white actor.

Recent movies like the hugely successful Rogue One: A Star Wars Story got positive reception not only for its engaging storyline but also for having a diverse cast. Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen playing the role of the blind warrior-monk Chirrut Imwe was well-received.

For its part, The Great Wall makers catered to international audiences not only by casting Damon but by dropping Asian actors into the film to play roles. Jing Tiang, 28, and Luhan, 26, were among these.

Jing Tian portrayed Commander Lin, leader of the acrobatic-specialist Crane Troop. Luhan (a Chinese singer who has gained a huge fan base as part of the South Korean-Chinese group EXO)  played Peng Yong, a warrior in the Bear Troop who frees the protagonists and who is saved, in turn, by Damon’s character from the attacking monsters. Andy Lau, one of Hong Kong’s most commercially successful movie actors since the mid-1980, tackled the role of Strategist Wang.

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