The Great Wall (China Film Group, Legendary Entertainment, Universal Pictures) was a pretty good movie for its genre, but it wasn’t a great one. Were it not for the controversy surrounding this film, I would have devoted only one post to it. I did not have high expectations, but the longer I watched it, the more I began to appreciate and enjoy it for what it was.
First of all, it was a monster movie in a different kind of setting, which was intriguing at first presentation. So how did the monsters look? I certainly wouldn’t call their design iconic (like in Alien or Godzilla, for example), but they grew on me as I continued watching.
I didn’t like the design at first because I came into the movie with prior expectations. As I mentioned last week, this can interfere with our ability to appreciate something for what it is. It is easy to fall into the trap of criticizing something for what it isn’t trying to be. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has a fairly renowned Asian collection, and I have been there a number of times to see it. Using what I had seen there as a frame of reference helped me to recognize a quality in the creature designs that I initially missed.
The director, Zhang Yimou, re-imagined the Tao Tei from Chinese mythology, and this general approach is one that typically earns my respect unless it is poorly done. He also re-magined some 14th Century Chinese technological innovations. This, among other factors, made the Great Wall itself a kind of character in the plot, and the battle scenes on the parapets made for some spectacular visuals.
The use of aerial female warriors might not have made for the most tactical sense, especially in light of the casualties, but it allowed for some impressive stunt work utilizing stunt workers recruited from a regional temple.
It didn’t bother me that this movie sometimes lacked tight, Western plot logic because a lot of American movies also lack tight, Western plot logic. It’s nice when it’s there, but this isn’t why I watch monster movies.
I liked some of the unusual visuals, such as looking down from hot air balloons upon a swarming horde of Tao Tei.
I also liked the plot device of the Nameless Order character played by Jing Tian having to provide some philosophical instruction to Matt Damon’s mercenary before he could get his full game on.
Even then, he couldn’t do it alone, and the Chinese characters did not seem forced into a subordinate role by the screenplay.
If you haven’t seen it, and if you can go into the experience with a relatively open mind, I’d at least recommend this one as a good rental.