Last Monday I went and saw The Great Wall, but I've been busy so I'm only getting to blog about it now (Wednesday). I was looking forward to watching this film. I've enjoyed Zhang Yimou's work in the past, and this is "Ancient Chinese fantasy" which is pretty much what my little RPG is all about.
I was a bit hesitant, though, because here in S. Korea, they've oversaturated the market with ads for the film. I mean, try to watch anything on YouTube, and you have to sit through a 10-second ad for the film. I've got a bit of a contrarian streak from my dad. He hated Elvis and the Beatles back in the 60's when they were super popular (he prefers Elvis but doesn't mind the Beatles today). Because of the annoyance, I almost just waited to watch it on VOD later. But I thought, hey, I'm kinda the intended audience for this sort of film, so I'll go see it.
The basic story, if you haven't been over-inundated with ads, is that a pair of foreigners arrive at the Great Wall to "trade" just on the eve of a monster attack that happens for a week once every 60 years. And since the main character, William (that would be the Matt Damon character), is an excellent archer, he helps out. Oh, and it helps that he thinks Commander Lin (Tian Jing) is cute.
So yeah, it's not really wuxia, but it does play out a bit more similarly to how my Flying Swordsmen games have actually turned out in practice. Lots of combat, some cool stunts, monsters here and there, but not really a lot of interpersonal relationship development. In that department, it's more like a typical Hollywood film, although as far as the visuals go, it's very Zhang Yimou. This is a hybrid film, designed to try and appeal to both mainstream U.S. and mainstream Chinese audiences, after all.
And finally, my opinion of the film? I liked it well enough, but I can't say it was great. The beginning was pretty solid, but when the Nameless Order (the Chinese army defending the Wall) are first introduced, the very brightly colored armors looked like something out of a Koei strategy game. But again, it's Zhang Yimou. He loves to play around with colors in his films, and in this one the backgrounds were pretty stark, leaving only costuming as an area to use colors symbolically. The first attack of the creatures (tao tei) was fun to watch. Commander Lin's Crane Corps was very wuxia.
The second half of the film, though, was a predictable and not so exciting playing out of a typical Hollywood cliche. I don't want to spoil things, but we've seen this plot a hundred times, and they didn't really bring anything new to it. It's by the numbers.
I did appreciate that at the ending, they used a more traditional Chinese style ending than a traditional American style ending.
So, not the best film I've ever seen, but not too bad, either. A more creative plot would have really helped this film, along with a bit deeper character interaction (William and Lin spar about Western individualism and Eastern communalism, General Shao and Strategist Wang spar a little over how to deal with the tao tei, William, Tovar and Ballard disagree about how to get what they want and escape, but it's all fairly tangential to defeating the tao tei).