Thursday, January 11, 2018



The most underrated film of 2017 was easily Zhang Yimou's monster adventure film “The Great Wall”. Personally I was stunned how this great film was essentially ignored by the film going public, and those that did see it, responded negatively towards it. In fact the negativity towards this film started early, when the first trailers came out, as the film was accused of “white washing” a Chinese story due to the fact Matt Damon was part of the cast and featured heavily in the trailers. People moaned about the fact that it looked like the story was going to be about how China needed an American to save the day, but for anyone who bothered to actually see “The Great Wall”, they would know that this just isn't true. Yes, Matt Damon's character is a heroic one who does help the Chinese defeat the monsters climbing the wall, but he is one of many with the true hero of the film being Commander Lin Mae, played by Chinese actress Tian Jiang.

Zhang Yimou is a grade A film maker, honing his craft early in his career by creating a number of emotional dramas, often starring Gong Li, such as “Raise the Red Lantern”. However he is just as adept at creating a blockbuster sized epic, while still retaining his attention to detail and character. In fact I would go so far as to say that when it comes to creating cinematic spectacle of an epic scope, he leaves the Hollywood pretenders to shame.

The beauty within “The Great Wall” is something to behold. His use of colour, is first and foremost, a breathtaking sight. The way he has designed each group of soldiers via a colour coded system is brilliant and makes total sense. Watching the soldiers strutting together before battle, each in their different coloured armour.......well, it makes the hair on your arms stand straight. And speaking of the armour (not to mention the weapons too), the attention to detail is astounding. You can tell that so much time and effort has been put into making these costumes and props, but it was worth it because you notice it. In fact when I came out of the cinema, I turned to my wife (who also adored the film) and said “that must have cost a fortune to make”, and it turns out that “The Great Wall” is the most expensive Chinese film ever made, but believe me, it is all on the screen. Before I lose my train of thought on the colour, I also have to mention another scene where our heroes are walking down this tunnel only to hit a wall, with coloured light bursting from everywhere. It catches the eye, and you wonder where this colour has come from, and it takes a while but you find out that above them is a tower filled with stained glass. Simply beautiful, and it makes you wonder why Hollywood directors do not use colour this effectively more often. Yimou has never been afraid to fill his films with colour.

Another thing that Zhang Yimou knows how to do is construct and shoot an action scene. This is a film filled with hundreds and thousands of monsters attacking numerous soldiers, and yet you always know exactly what is going on every moment of these battles. He places the camera in the perfect position and never over edits these scenes. He also finds the optimum moments to use slow motion, with my favourite being when Matt Damon slides as he fires an arrow into the mouth of an incoming monster. It is one of those hero shots that I usually roll my eyes at in movies, but in this instance, I thought “Man, this is cool!!”. Another “cool” moment I have to mention is when the female warriors, all dressed in blue armour and attached to bungy cords, jump from their platforms to spear the monsters attacking below. Awesome stuff!

Now I am sure that some people are crying out “What about the substandard CGI in this film???”. Well, yes, I have to agree that not all of the CGI looks perfect, but Zhang Yimou's skills at being a director just make it work. It is easy to look past it because he has made a fun adventure yarn.

I should mention that the optimum way to watch “The Great Wall” is on the big screen with the sound just pounding, as it adds so much more to the experience. Due to the stunning wide screen cinematography, the film just deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and when it comes to the sound, well there is a moment in the battles where drums are being played by some of the soldiers so as to create a rhythm for the attack, and the pounding of these drums just mesmerises you.

I honestly could talk a lot more about this film (and I will later as, “The Great Wall” shows up in my Top 20) but I will end it here and say just give “The Great Wall” a chance. I promise you that it will exceed your expectations. Then get the word out about how great it is because right now it is the most underrated film of 2017.

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