After all these centuries, the Great Wall finally got its time in the sun, earning a whopping $67.4 million at the Chinese box office during its opening weekend.
For many in the film industry, the movie’s release was a landmark moment. “The Great Wall” is the biggest collaboration between Hollywood and China to date. It stars Matt Damon and some Chinese A-listers in a film directed by China’s most celebrated director Zhang Yimou staged on China’s most iconic world wonder. The film was produced by Legendary Entertainment, a noted Hollywood studio that is now owned by a Chinese mogul, with a budget of $150 million, the highest ever for a Chinese movie.
In many ways, it is the culmination of Hollywood’s increasing focus on the world second biggest box office market, and seems to show that the focus is likely to pay off — big time. The film made the fourth biggest box office debut of the year in China — trailing only “The Mermaid,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “Warcraft.”
In case you haven’t seen the previews, the “science fantasy action-adventure monster” movie stars Damon as a foreign mercenary who is imprisoned in the Great Wall, but then joins up with a group of elite warriors to help defend it from mysterious monsters. Because of Damon’s casting as the hero in the film, some critics accused it of “white-washing,” accusations that both Damon and Zhang refuted.
However, critics have had other things to complain about as well. “The Great Wall is easily the least interesting and involving blockbuster of the respective careers of both its director and star,” Clarence Tsui writes in the Hollywood Reporter.
Beyond the casting and the ceaseless onslaught of diverse special effects, Zhang and his Hollywood screenwriters have delivered nothing more than a formulaic monster movie — albeit one transposed to a historically undefined China where generals dressed like Terracotta warriors already have mastered anesthetics, air travel and American-accented English.
Then again, Zhang might have delivered exactly what was asked of him — a no-nonsense visual spectacle that stops at nothing in its portrayal of an imaginary, mysterious ancient culture. Or perhaps The Great Wall is simply a safety-first exercise for Zhang, Damon and their financiers in consolidating their respective first moves outside their usual terrain; it may be a landmark film for the Chinese and U.S. film industries, but it’s hardly a creative breakthrough for anyone involved.
Domestic critics have been no kinder to the film. Currently, “The Great Wall” holds a disappointing 5.4/10 rating on Douban.com, a popular Chinese film rating site.
However, LeVision Pictures, a Chinese production company that helped produce the movie, is mostly angry with one negative reviewer in particular. A popular film critic on Weibo with nearly 750,000 followers wrote that “Zhang Yimou has died,” on his account when the film was released on Friday.
In response, LeVision CEO Zhang Zhao sent the critic an angry legal letter accusing him of defamation. Meanwhile, Zhang Yimou’s wife also responded, posting on her own Weibo account: “The director worked very hard for the film and isn’t bothered about any unfair treatment. But he doesn’t deserve the curses and personal attacks like this without any bottom line. He just made a film. Where is your conscience?”
“The Great Wall” will be coming to theaters around the world over the next few month, culminating in a February 17th release in North America. If you miss it, don’t worry, there will be more just like it.
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