starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau
screenplay by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
directed by Zhang Yimou
by Walter Chaw Gloriously, fantastically stupid from beginning to end, Fifth Generation legend Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall is also, you know, not terrible on the grand scale of terrible things. The popular narrative around this picture is the casting of Matt Damon as some sort of "white savior" in a film about China's most notable architectural achievement--except that it's not really about the Wall and Damon doesn't really save anything, though he does put to rest any sort of debate about whether or not he's a credible action star...or even star star. He tries on an Irish accent here that consists mainly of his trying to talk around a marble. That is, when he remembers he's supposed to be doing an accent. It's Kevin Costner-as-Robin Hood levels of comically-horrific, and, just like Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Great Wall is an attempt to grit-up and culturally contextualize some ridiculous rural folktale. The folktale in this instance is Zhang's own classic Red Sorghum, which earned him some trouble upon release because of its depiction of the old men running the Chinese government as senile, corrupt, and perverse. Indeed, The Great Wall depicts Chinese leadership as tradition-bound in a bad way, its "emperor" figure a child hiding behind his throne. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to see the monstrous child in Red Sorghum grown into this pathetic figure of a leader. If the film weren't so stupid, in other words, it would probably have gotten Zhang in trouble again.