The Great Wall
dir Zhang Yimou
scr Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy
prd Jon Jashni, Peter Loehr, Charles Roven, Thomas Tull
with Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Hanyu Zhang, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Eddie Peng, Xuan Huang, Zheng Kai, Junkai Wang
release Chn 16.Dec.16,
US/UK 17.Feb.17
16/China Universal 1h43
The Great Wall
Battle-ready: Pascal and Damon

jing dafoe lau
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Great Wall A Western movie made in China, this action thriller mixes historical drama, indigenous folklore, culture-class antics and monster fantasy. Its scale is huge, and sometimes very impressive, although there's an over-reliance on exaggerated digital effects. And the script is rather clunky. But it's thoroughly entertaining.

Around the 12th century, William and Tovar (Damon and Pascal) are the only surviving members of a band of European mercenaries pursuing rumours of fire-powder in China. And they've been captured by a sophisticated army preparing for the return of the Tao Tei, greedy creatures that invade every 60 years led by their eerily intelligent queen. Commander Lin (Jing) and Strategist Wang (Lau) put these interlopers' skills to work fending off the horde of toothy, snarling beasts. But if they can't stop them, the whole world is at risk.

While veteran director Zhang fills the screen with expansive spectacle, colourful production design and whizzy action, the script attempts to layer in a few subplots, such as William and Tovar plotting with another captured foreigner (Dafoe) to make their escape during the chaos. Thankfully, any hint of romance between William and the super-hot Lin is left to subtext, as she becomes a strong character on her own. The only relationship with any texture is the camaraderie between William and Tovar.

Damon seems right at home in this role, combining his usual good-guy sensibility with Bourne's astounding physical skills. His banter with Pascal is a lot of fun, as are Dafoe's withering comments. And there's also some spiky chemistry with Jing, who creates the film's most engaging character as a young women thrust into leadership and rising to the challenge. Everyone else is merely arrogant or loyal or heroic as required. And they all look terrific in colour-coded armour shooting arrows, heaving spears or bungee-jumping into the fray.

Visually, the movie is an odd mix of lavish sets and costumes and digital effects work. Some scenes look remarkably realistic, as if shot on the Great Wall itself, while others are somewhat cartoonish, sometimes in a Lord of the Rings sort of way with swarms of Orc-like Tao Tei charging forward. Similarly, some dialog is cheesy and awkward, while other scenes strike a surprisingly meaningful tone. In the end, it's an engaging romp with a bit of historical edge, fun with the hint of something to think about.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 17.Feb.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall