Few upcoming blockbusters can hold a candle to the scope of Zhang Yimou’s Chinese epic The Great Wall. It’s something that was on full display at New York Comic Con over the course of the weekend, when Legendary and Universal seized the opportunity to unveil an awe-inspiring new trailer for what will soon become the most expensive motion picture in China’s history.
So far, so tantalizing. But for all of its promise, The Great Wall is still shackled by accusations of whitewashing – accusations that Yimou hasn’t shied away from in the past. His reasoning? That the marquee fantasy flick represents an international blockbuster, one that chronicles the story of a global struggle against a species of supernatural enemies that lay siege to China’s sky-scraping fortification.
Coming out of New York Comic Con, that’s a line of thinking that Matt Damon himself touched base on, tackling claims that The Great Wall leans on the trite white savior movie trope to appeal to a western audience. Assuming the part of William Garin, Damon began by stressing how marketing a feature in the vein of Yimou’s epic is inherently difficult simply because there is little time to spotlight any of the nuance – be that in terms of characters or the story driving the supernatural action.
“From a marketing perspective, what’s a worse wipeout for a marketing team than to have that happen as a backlash against a teaser you put out? They’re trying to establish a number of things within a minute. It’s a teaser, they’re trying to tease the monster. They’re saying it’s a visionary filmmaker that Middle America probably doesn’t know. It’s the Steven Spielberg of China, right? Don’t worry! They speak English in this movie. You hear my voice speaking English. Don’t worry! Matt’s in the movie, you’ve seen this guy before. They’re trying to establish all these things, and by the way, there are monsters. Then 30 seconds and you’re done. There’s a lot of pipe they’re trying to lay in 30 seconds, and I watched that teaser a number of times to try to understand the criticism.”
Essentially, Matt Damon has asked moviegoers for the benefit of the doubt in what is an articulate response to an issue we see so often on the interwebs – that is, lambasting a feature film based on a fleeting teaser trailer designed to be as palatable as possible.
“Ultimately where I came down to was if people see this movie and there is somehow whitewashing involved in a creature feature that we made up then I will listen to that with my whole heart. I will think about that and try to learn from that. I will be surprised if people see this movie and have that reaction. I will be genuinely shocked. It’s a perspective that as a progressive person I really do agree with and try to listen to and be sensitive to, but ultimately I think you are undermining your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it. You have to educate yourself about what it is before making your attack or your argument and then it’s easier to listen to from my side.”
Also starring Andy Lau, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Narcos star Pedro Pascal, The Great Wall swings open its mighty doors on these shores on February 17, 2017.