(Michael Arbeiter also contributed to this post)
If you were worried The Great Wall would just be the Matt Damon show, worry no more. As the colors and battles demonstrate, even before the credits flat-out state it, this is very much a Zhang Yimou movie, and he’s still the guy who gave us Hero and House of Flying Daggers. And now, he looks to be giving us World War Z-like swarms of Zuul and Vinz Clortho’s extended family.
“Ultimately it’s a monster movie,” Damon told an excited crowd at New York Comic Con (check out our gallery of panel photos below. “It’s historical fantasy, and I’d never really done that before. But if I was ever going to do something like that, on that scale, it would have to be with somebody like Zhang Yimou.”
The cast’s admiration for their director was paramount in earning their investment in this picture. “We’re big fanboys of his,” Damon said, after costar Pedro Pascal reflected on walking alone to his childhood neighborhood’s remote arthouse theater to watch Yimou’s films.
Damon gets the most time in U.S. trailers, as a trader who comes looking for a weapon and finds himself in the midst of a war between monsters and human warriors in iridiscently tinted armor. Jing Tian, Lu Han and Andy Lau get equal billing, and frankly look more equipped to handle the conflict than the western outsider.
Damon asserted that The Great Wall “was the biggest movie that I’ve ever been a part of.” Damon attempted to describe some of the grandeur . “I walked in and there were all these guys form the Shaolin Temple doing flips off these walls [and] sequences where these women are playing these drums to communicate to everyone what’s happening, and that monsters are approaching.”
The “bigness” of this movie doesn’t stop there. “We had 200 of those cargo crates that circle around the wall set and are draped with green screen,” Damon said. “There had to be a half a mile of green screen.”
Director Zhang Yimou added, “We had over a hundred translators on this film.”
Arrows fly, as they must, and the monstrous threat feeds. But will even the Great Wall be enough to keep the creatures out of China proper? This is alternative history, so anything goes. Though what Willem Dafoe is doing in the midst of it all, we know not. Given his pedigree, probably something devious.
Speaking on her role in the film, Jing Tian said, “This character is an incredibly powerful female character. She’s very strong, brave, and determined. As leader of an army, she shows a lot of wisdom and courage.” She continued, “The equality between men and women in leadership roles. The respect that all of these [soldiers] have for each other, regardless of gender, is something that I wish we could see more in film.”
That said, it isn’t as though The Great Wall hasn’t been draped in its own deal of controversy. Namely, the issue of whitewashing.
“Yeah, that was a f**king bummer,” said Damon when asked about the subject. “I watched the teaser a number of times to try to understand the criticism.” While Damon is sympathetic to the complaints, he hopes people will at least wait until the film comes out to wage them. “If people see this movie and feel there is somehow whitewashing involved in a creature feature that we made up, I will listen to that with my whole heart and I will think about that and I will try to learn from that.”
You say you want more original action epics; well, here’s a decidedly non-franchise, non-comic-book action epic from a director knwon for expertly blending smartly choreographed action with emotional tales of honor and love. As was said once in a similarly epic-looking movie, “Are you not entertained?”
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Images: Legendary, StarPix
(Editor’s note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.)