I wrote a little piece recently on a particular post-apocalyptic action film made in China as an exclusive for a major streaming service there. It was mostly to point out how the movie was something of a blatant copy of “Mad Max: Fury Road”, but with a girl as the lead character. Heck, the title was even transcribed as “Mad Shelia”, possibly a misspelling of the Australian slang term for a good-looking woman. What I’m getting at here is that, at times, this is what the Chinese film industry sometimes churns out, even with their lengthy cinematic history and the fact that their film directors are highly- regarded overseas. But a recent big-budget costume movie looks set to change that, with some surprise help from some Hollywood talent.
BBC has it that multi-awarded director Zhang Yimou, who may be known to Western audiences for his 2002 epic “Hero” starring Jet Li, is helming a new cinematic project that’s being touted as the first ever in China that could take on the best that Hollywood has to offer. Its English title is “The Great Wall”, and from what plot descriptions that have come out, it takes place on a high-fantasy China, and that means massive theatrical sets, awesome costume design from robes to armor, wire-works, CGI, and undeniable star power. After all one of the lead stars is Matt Damon.
That’s no joke, readers. Director Zhang has tapped “Jason Bourne” to top-bill this fantasy epic, already looking to be one of the most expensive that China’s ever put out. The addition of Damon was seen by some as a great positive that would draw in a lot of viewers; however a far louder voice has raised protest and questions as to what a Caucasian actor, whose character isn’t even made up to look Chinese, is doing in a film about ancient magical China. There have been some accusations of whitewashing of course, in a similar vein to the criticism leveled at Hollywood for casting Scarlett Johansson as allegedly Japanese character Major Kusanagi in the western adaptation of the manga/anime “Ghost in the Shell”.
Amazingly, it was the director who came to the rescue with an explanation on Damon’s presence in the narrative. In an interview with BBC he describes Damon’s character: he’s a non-Chinese foreigner, come to Japan to covertly steal the secret recipe of Chinese black powder explosive. While there he finds himself entangled in the fierce and desperate battle being waged by China against a powerful enemy assailing them from beyond the Great Wall. So there we have it.
“The Great Wall” stars Damon, Andy Lau, Jing Tian, boy-band member Wang Junkai and Willem Defoe. It’s slated for a December 16 release in China and a February 2017 release elsewhere.