"Neither very Chinese nor very Western."
Zhang Yimou’s latest blockbuster starring Matt Damon, The Great Wall, hit Chinese cinemas on 16 December but how is it actually performing?
At $150-million, the film set a new record for being the most expensive Chinese movie of all time. Set in ancient China, the fantasy film sees American actor Damon fighting mystical monsters on the iconic Beijing landmark. However, whilst the film was offered a cross-border collaboration in terms of production (Legendary East and Universal Studios), the film was slammed for ‘whitewashing’ for casting Damon as the lead star.
Director Zhang, who produced blockbuster classics such as House of Flying Daggers as well as being the mastermind behind the Beijing Olympics 2008 Opening Ceremony spectacle, said, “This script was written by American screenwriters. So the story is really told from an American’s perspective. When I came onboard, I wanted to make sure everything Chinese in this film feels genuine.”
Nonetheless, the film opened in China this weekend drawing in $67.4 million from ticket sales from its first three days – making it one of the biggest debuts of the year in China.
However, whilst financially Zhang’s blockbuster seems to be off to a promising start, reviews and responses have been less encouraging. Cinemagoers left a lukewarm score of 5.4/10 on Chinese film site Douban.com, whilst others expressed confusion about the cross-culture elements in the film
“Which audience is the film targeting? Older? Younger? Chinese? Foreigners?” said Li Yi, a 29-year-old high school math teacher. “I can’t figure out who will prefer a film that is neither very Chinese nor very Western.”
“The flashy colors, ancient weapons and aerobatic war scenes contributed little to the overall plot”, she said. It “was a waste of time.”
If successful, Zhang’s co-produced film could present an encouraging future for co-producing films across borders but if it fails to grab the approval from a global audience, directors may be deterred from working with Chinese studios.
“It will be worth learning whether the model of using Chinese resources to achieve an American style can be successful,” said Li Xun, a research fellow at the China Film Art Research Center.
The Great Wall will be released in the US on 17 February 2017.