Zhang Yimou and Matt Damon's 'The Great Wall' may be a dissapointment to critics in China, but is sure to please action fans around the world

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/18 16:23:39

‘Great Wall’ disappoints critics but sure to please action fans


Promotional material for <em>The Great Wall</em> Photo: IC

Promotional material for The Great Wall Photo: IC

Promotional material for <em>The Great Wall</em> Photo: IC

Promotional material for The Great Wall Photo: IC

 
Promotional material for <em>The Great Wall</em> Photo: IC

Promotional material for The Great Wall Photo: IC

Matt Damon's latest work The Great Wall was once the center of controversy over allegations of whitewashing, but not that the film has hit Chinese mainland theaters on Friday attention has shifted.

The Chinese fantasy-action film topped Friday's mainland box office with opening day earnings of 107.94 million yuan ($15.52 million) - more than five times that of the runner-up The Wasted Times, another Chinese film that premiered the same day. As of Sunday morning, The Great Wall has brought in a total of 365.68 million yuan.

While it seems that The Great Wall may come as a ray of light in what has been a gloomy film market this year, opinions towards the film have been divided.

Bearing the various negative reactions in mind, I saw the film on its second day of release. To be honest, I can't say The Great Wall is a splendid work that everyone must see, but it is not that bad either. It is, in my opinion, a film that has been carefully tailored to be a blockbuster popcorn flick.  

Another Olympic show?

One thing happy surprise was the film's ability to fuse Chinese elements in a rather natural way compared to other joint productions in the past.

Set in ancient China, The Great Wall follows two Western mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) who plan to steal a sample of gunpowder to take back to the West. However, the two are captured by the Nameless Order, a Chinese troop garrisoned at the Great Wall. Discovering that the troop's true mission is to defend China from invading monsters known as Taotie and influenced by the soldiers' selflessness, Garin decides to stay and fight together with them.

"A large scale Olympic gymnastics show" is what most Chinese critics have been calling The Great Wall, referring to the fact that the film's director Zhang Yimou also directed the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games.

"The Great Wall is a collapsed work," Ye Xindai, a domestic critic said in a long critique of the film posted on Wechat. Cheng Qingsong - chief editor of Youth Film Handbook magazine and the organizer of The Golden Broom awards, which sarcastically awards the worst movies of the year - called The Great Wall the champion of the awards.

"I felt it was still exciting after I watched the film for a second time," Wang Youshi, 22, a college student told the Global Times on Saturday.

"The scenes are great. I never thought a Chinese film could look like a Hollywood blockbuster."

This split in opinions between critics and general audiences is reflected on two of China's major film websites Mtime and Douban. While the film has a relatively high grade of 7.3/10 on Mtime, it only holds a 5.3/10 on Douban, a site that attracts more critics and industry insiders.

Taking aim at the West 

Setting aside, the core of The Great Wall is typically Hollywood: A big name director and famous actors and actresses, exciting action scenes, and most of all, a story about a lost man finally finding real meaning in life and a nobody becoming a hero.

The Great Wall currently has a 5.6/10 from 245 netizens on Western movie site IMDB, with only one netizen posting a review. In this post from a UK moviegoer who watched the film in Shanghai, the reviewer said he was disappointed by the story yet acknowledged the visuals and action scenes.

Variety's review of the film hasn't been kind either, pointing out the flaws in the film such as a lack of well-developed characters and a rigid performance from the lead actress.

However, despite critic reviews, the film is still highly anticipated by global audiences. IMDB shows the film rising in popularity and Rotten Tomatoes shows that 95 percent of users want to see the film.

The Great Wall reminds me of The Transformers franchise, the last two films of which were also heavily criticized. Yet considering that these films' target audiences are people only looking to go to the movies to relax and enjoy themselves, a shallow story is not a barrier to earning tons at the box office. 

Another reason that criticism of the film will likely not influence The Great Wall's final box office is that the film has clearly been made with audiences around the world in mind rather than just for the Chinese market.

Later this month, The Great Wall will head to a number of Asian countries, then over to Europe in January and February, and the North American market on February 17.

Some aspects of the film which come across as too shallow for Chinese critics may be just the right dish for overseas audiences.

For example, in China some have felt that naming a film that is only meant to entertain The Great Wall is an insult to the actual architectural masterpiece. However, using the The Great Wall of China as an identifier is the best way for the film's producers to let non-Chinese audiences know that the story takes place in China - the title is both straightforward and impressive.

Other scenes that Chinese audiences have found a bit overbearing, such as a scene featuring a group of women beating on drums and another scene featuring traditional Chinese folk opera, may be seen as very novel and fresh for audiences outside China.
Newspaper headline: Chinese popcorn flick


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