Free Press Journal

THE GREAT WALL is a visual treat


Film: The Great Wall

Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Kenny Lin, Junkai Wang, Zheng Kai, Cheney Chen, Xuan Huang, Andy Lau

Directed by: Zhang Yimou


It is extraordinary that the Chinese, proficient in “the art of war” if a 5th century BC Chinese military treatise of that name by the military strategist Sun Tzu is anything to go by not to speak of sadistic killing (death by a thousand cuts) which a certain Zulfiqar Bhutto wished to inflict upon India; are less than adept in fighting other-worldly monsters in this epic starring top-drawer Chinese actors alongside Hollywood star Matt Damon.

Written for the screen by Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy from a story by Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, this action fantasy posits that China’s number one tourist attraction, the Ming Dynasty Great Wall that stretches over a length of 21,196.18 km (half of the Equator!) is the world’s longest fortification and was built to serve as transport and a bulwark against invaders.

In the film, the iconic landmark is the stage for thrilling battles ranging from one-on-ones to mighty phalanxes that will spell victory or disaster for the combatants. The story spins a supernatural element around the wall and we are duly notified at the outset, that it’s only a legend. NOT FACT. Be that as it may. As in every other co-production I can think of, this movie too is a showcase for Chinese culture and military magnitude.

The fight sequences are well choreographed; in particular, the ones between the monsters and the two Western mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) and the Chinese armed forces which boast of women warriors, clad in bright blue armour (men wear red) Like the porcelain pretty women led by Lin Mae (Jin Tiang, a sight to behold) the costumes dazzle in a theatrical way while the CGI monsters are revolting and petrifying in equal parts.

Sucked into this life and death struggle is the firang pair which was only looking to acquire gunpowder and which they and the Western courtier Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe) continually refer to as black powder. Dafoe plays a character that has 25 yrs of Latin and English language teaching in his belt and bides his time, waiting for the opportune moment, to escape with the lethal black dust. Tovar is brutally pessimistic as he tells William,” They think you are virtuous but I know what you are – a thief, liar and a killer who can never undo the things you have done…”

We humbly submit this is simply not true. Heaven knows, such a mindset rules out change and redemption. Mercifully, William shows what he is made of and what he values most in the end when he has to choose between man and Mammon.

Sci fi films usually address contemporary concerns and The Great Wall evokes one of today’s most pressing problems: the West’s growing sense of being assailed by waves of illegal migrants and criminals masquerading as refugees.

Directing this spectacle is the talented Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) a first English-language production for Yimou, The Great Wall is the largest film ever shot entirely in China. I’m sorry to say though the landscapes are poorly rendered in CGI; but the martial sequences are spectacular and more than compensate for the afore-mentioned inadequacy.