The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper

Arts and Entertainment

The Great Wall is Less than Great

By Sports Editor Cindy Yuan & Staff Writer Evie Sun

The Great Wall is a hodgepodge of a movie, with half-baked storylines crammed into an action-fantasy film just short of two hours. Directed by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the film boasts impressive cinematography and grand battle scenes, yet the plot is messy and nonsensical. The root of these problems stems from Matt Damon’s role as an exotic, white mercenary who just so happens to be the only person capable of saving China (and the world). Chinese and westerner English are spoken simultaneously and clash as viewers must often direct their attention to subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

The movie starts off following the journey of two European mercenaries, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) as they search desperately for a legendary “black powder” (gunpowder), the ultimate military weapon. However, when they arrive at the Great Wall, they are taken hostage by an imperial organization known as The Nameless Order, led by General Shao and Commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian).  It is revealed that the true purpose of the Wall is to defend China from reptilian monsters called the “Tao Tei” which launch a series of attacks every 60 years. The two soldiers are suddenly catapulted into chaos, and William, a skilled archer and swordsman, finds himself having to choose between stealing away with the black powder or an unstoppable heroic urge of joining the war cause against the Tao Tei.

In an effort to highlight the large-scale, color/coded synchronization of this military, A-list actors such as Andy Lau, Eddie Peng, and Zhang Hanyu are reduced to cardboard cutouts of perfection, lacking dimension, substance, and frankly, any memorable moments. Lin, who heads a female legion of soldiers who bungee jump off the Great Wall, is conveniently the only officer who is fluent in English. She receives the most screen time out of any Chinese cast member, yet her acting ability is hindered by English lines, which Jing delivers with impressive pronunciation but little emotion. Lin teaches William the importance of “trust”, and this theme resurfaces often throughout the movie, but lacks any real meaning. William plays the role of a cliche, white hero, who does everything from showcasing his archery skills to carrying a random stone key to saving the world. Irritatingly, the film spends an unnecessary amount of time spotlighting William’s relationship with a cowardly foot soldier (Lu Han). Absolutely no substance to the plot comes out from this relationship, but it guarantees that Lu, a former K-pop idol, will attract a large audience of young Chinese fangirls.

Zhang certainly focuses more on the cinematography and special effects of this production than its plot. Despite its weak characterization, the film manages to halfway redeem itself through grand battle scenes. The Europeans stand back in awe as the Chinese army moves as a single body: hundreds of archers, foot soldiers, bungee jumping warriors, and drummers acting in precise coordination. The background music is grand as the camera circles above for birds eye view, offering majestic shots and camera pans of the Great Wall, and Zhang’s signature flair for grand patterns clearly shows as hordes of human and digitally created monsters swarm below. However, these fighting sequences become painfully repetitive as the movie drags on.  Zhang uses eye-catching inventions including poison-coated harpoons, whistling arrows, fireball-cannonball hybrids, and hot air balloons at some point or another. However, the magic begins to wear off and chaotic battle scenes become dull with repetition.

The Great Wall drips with plot holes. The impressive cast list is hindered by Zhang’s focus on cinematography; they end up standing around looking serious and important for the entirety of the movie. The Great Wall is a film suited towards those that enjoy impressive displays of synchronization along with colorful, detailed costumes and landscapes, as every other aspect of the movie takes a backseat to these admittedly stunning visuals. Overall, the movie’s various aspects mesh poorly, but its monetary success proves to be a testament to the increasing power of the Chinese market as Hollywood tries to find a way to capitalize. Clearly, a film does not need to be good to be successful, a discovery that will inevitably lead to ripples in the movie industry.

Rating: D+

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