China has become an increasingly important factor in big budget filmmaking. But for the most part Hollywood has relied on catering to lucrative Chinese box office dollars using tactics like putting a prominent Chinese star in the cast, like Angelababy in Independence Day: Resergence, or filming exclusive scenes on location at gorgeous locales in the world’s most populous country, like in Iron Man 3. There hasn’t been a true big budget meeting of east and west, until now. Today we got our first look at filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s Matt Damon-starring epic, The Great Wall, and it looks, well, great.
The trailer, released by Legendary Pictures and Universal, seems to be a perfect blend of Chinese history and enormous cinematic spectacle. The idea for the film originated from Legendary CEO Thomas Tull and World War Z author Max Brooks, and tells tells the allegedly real story behind why the Great Wall of China was constructed. No, it wasn’t to protect the ancient Chinese empires against nomadic raids. Instead, the movie posits that it was built to keep a mysterious monster out.
Check out the monster-sized trailer below:
Besides the trailer, a few photos first broke [on Entertainment Weekly]. They don’t show any peeks at the monster, but they do show some of the epic production design and characters that will populate Zhang’s big cinematic vision, and we do mean big. Zhang is the filmmaker behind Chinese hits like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, and he’s even responsible for crafting the absolutely bonkers opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made up to this point, and Zhang told EW the fascinating original blockbuster idea is expensive for a reason:
“The film takes place about 1,000 years ago. At its core, it is a period piece and an action film. The fantasy element does play a major role because of the monsters. But, what makes our film unique is that these are ancient Chinese monsters. Even though it’s a fantasy movie, we filmed it in a very realistic way. We want it to feel like the events actually happened. Other than the monster, all aspects of this film are backed by either scientific or historical research.”
Here’s a few of the EW photos:
While not everything but the monster is 100% real, the quick looks at the film definitely seems to indicate Zhang was going for a balance of magical realist authenticity. And it’s the first time an important Chinese filmmaker has been given a Hollywood crossover blockbuster, which is equally as important. Zhang told EW, “We are using Hollywood filmmaking to introduce Chinese culture.”
The biggest problem with the film will be what we’ll call The Last Samurai-syndrome of inserting white actors like Damon as the leads in stories set in Asian countries. But they had to pay for this expensive movie somehow, and Damon is a big enough star to help do it. Here’s hoping they make his white character there to fight some ancient monster for a legitimate reason.
The 3D blockbuster-hopeful opens on February 17, 2017 via Universal and also stars Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Luhan, and Jing Tian.