Swords! Gunpowder! Monsters! Matt Damon in a ponytail!
BQB here with a review of The Great Wall.
3.5 readers – this film got a bad rap.
Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal aka Prince Oberyn of Game of Thrones fame play William and Tovar, a duo of European mercenaries/scoundrels who have come to China in search of black powder.
Alas, their hopes of making big time money off of the boom boom stuff is put on hold when they are captured by the Nameless Order, a vast Chinese Army in charge of protecting the Great Wall (and in the process, China) from an invasion of monsters who come down from a mountain and eat everyone in sight every sixty years.
Grand in scale, sweeping in scope, filled with bright colors and dazzling special effects, this film is a winner and unfortunately, it was treated as a loser due to political correctness…i.e…a lot of people felt it was highly un-work in the current year for a honky like Matt Damon to be playing the hero in a movie about the Great Wall of China.
Admittedly, even this writer poked fun at the concept…but in my defense, that was before I saw the movie.
3.5 readers, to make a film for an English speaking audience, you’ve got to do one of three things:
#1) Make the non-English people speak English. Basically, you’re giving the audience a wink and asking them to go along with it. No, these people didn’t speak English but unless you want to read subtitles for two hours, stop being a stickler for authenticity.
#2) Make a movie with subtitles. If a film made primarily in a foreign language is good enough, I’ll watch it and read the subtitles. The Ip Man movies based out of Hong Kong and the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series come to mind. However, I am a film nerd and the average English speaking film audience isn’t going to want to plunk down cash to sit and read a film. Too much work!
#3) Throw in some English speaking Westerners to tell the English speaking audience what is going on. The Western audience can live vicariously through them, exploring the idea of being an English speaker in a far away world. Make most of the characters from that world speak their native language and put it in subtitles when they speak to each other, but have one character who can speak English and can act as an intermediary between the English and non-English speakers.
The Great Wall goes with Option 3, and it works well. Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) can speak English and Chinese and introduces the newcomers (and, vicariously, the English speaking audience) to her world.
Ironically, despite the fact that it was panned for un-wokeness, one of the film’s highest ranking officers is a woman.
Further, there’s a running theme of trust or specifically, the need for people from different cultures to trust each other. Tovar (Pascal), a Spaniard, tries to convince his British friend William (Damon) throughout the film to abandon the Nameless Order and take advantage of the chaos during the film’s numerous badass monster siege scenes to steal as much as he can carry and run away with him like a thief in the night.
Will William stay true to his past as a greedy sword for hire or will he see the chance to save the Nameless Order from becoming monster lunch as a chance to redeem himself after a lifetime of villainy?
People from different cultures, coming together, working together for the common good or, you know, something that people who are super duper politically correct claim they want.
Admittedly, there have been many occasions where Hollywood has strained the boundaries of common sense and good taste to put a honky in a role that really should have gone to a non-honky. Emma Stone as a Hawaiian in Aloha is the most recent example that comes to mind.
That being said, I don’t think this movie fits the mold of other films that came across as stupid and insensitive due to a honky being crowbarred into a non-honky’s role. The script is all about people from different worlds learning to trust each other.
Is America ready for a film about Ancient China with an Asian actor playing the leading man role? Yes. It’s long overdue. But, and here’s the rub, keep in mind that movie, in order to reach an English speaking audience, will a) require everyone to speak English, thus loosing authenticity or b) be dubbed in subtitles, which means it won’t gain exposure to wide English speaking audiences and only geeky film buffs like me will watch it.
That’s not meant as an affront to non-English speakers. It’s just simple logic. America is an English speaking country and it is also a country filled with die hard movie lovers. We don’t have time to learn all the other languages of the world, so we need films to be in English or to have subtitles. Sure, there’s also the “dub it in English” option but those rarely, if ever, sound good.
Somehow, I have a feeling that all the people who complained about Matt Damon playing the lead in this role would also complain if it featured an Asian man speaking English (not as an affront to Asia but just due to the reason that most American movie goers don’t know how to speak Chinese).
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Deserved more kudos than it got.