THE GREAT WALL: The verdict, pros, cons, and speaking with director Zhang Yimou

By Erin Chew of

If you have ever visited The Great Wall Of China, and did the trek along one of the many paths you would be able to sense the history, its ambiance, its hidden meaning and significance. So you would expect a movie with this name sake to live up to certain expectations. The movie, THE GREAT WALL, did in some ways live up to these expectations in that it had amazing visual effects, and really did a great job in making the actual “Wall” the focal point of the movie. This point was expressed by celebrated Chinese film director Zhang Yimou at the official press junket, that in making the movie he wanted to preserve the meaning of the wall. In addition to this, the movie had a great balance of action and dialogue and there was not really any dull/boring moments with a number of interesting positive themes popping up despite the controversy surrounding the film, which I will discuss later in this piece.

Essentially the movie was about humans versus dragon like monsters in a bid to protect the fictional Song Dynasty Kingdom from being invaded, killed and eaten. The monsters are called the Tao Tei, and they are dragon like monsters which live in a cursed mountain and are awakened every 60 years to remind the people that ‘greed’ is a deadly curse.

Personally, I went into the pre-screening of this film feeling uncomfortable about Matt Damon yielding his whiteness in ancient China. After watching it, I thought the movie for the most part was excellent in terms of the visual effects and how the actual Great Wall was pinned as the focal theme. For a fictional tale of monsters and curses, I thought it was quite good, and Zhang Yimou was extremely clever in how he was able to merge the Eastern and Western cultures in a united front to fight a deadly non human enemy. The other positives which I enjoyed about the film was how Zhang Yimou managed to balance dialogue with action and didn’t waste time with the start of the movie, which went straight to the action.

The hardest part is to find the perfect point of how both cultures (east and west) is able to understand the story. Eastern cultures may like more of a complicated story whilst the Western cultures generally prefer more direct story lines.


As I stated above, I do not agree with the assertion that THE GREAT WALL was a “whitewashed” movie. I do however, think it was “white knighting”, meaning that Matt Damon (William Garin) was the secondary hero who enabled the primary hero Jing Tian (Lin Mae) to kill the Queen Tao Tei and finally ending this old age curse. The third most important character Andy Lau who played strategist Wang was influential for most of the movie and was the brains of the Nameless Order. And where Lau’s character had as much airtime as Damon’s character, he didn’t survive and succumbed to the wrath of the Tao Tei in an act of sacrifice for Damon’s character to help Tian’s character to save the day.


We all need to grow and understand of more cultures and people all over the world. The idea of the movie’s premise is to listen to other voices. The more we understand different cultures, the more we will all know of each other better.