Tuesday 27 December 2016

The Great Wall ... White man to the rescue

THE ravishing, lissome and lithe Chinese heroine General Lin Mei (Tian Jing) tells Western white mercenary William Garin (Matt Damon) that they're both not that different from each other. What she means is that China and the US are alike.
  This is the main message from Chinese director Zhang Yimou's Sino-English film The Great Wall.  It's a nice, heartwarming message, considering the carnage and devastation that had preceded them until that moment.  It could be Zhang's plea for harmony between the two superpowers, but it flies in the face of the tension between the two nations.
   China is flexing its military might abroad, particularly in the South China Sea bordering many Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia. And the US, the world's policeman, has pivoted to Asia to challenge and maybe put China where it belongs.
    Zhang, working on a screenplay written by three Westerners, gets to exhibit China's military supremacy, albeit in a distant time.
    It's enjoyable watching colour-coded soldiers in flowing garb repelling humongous frog-like creatures on the Great Wall, but it also reminded me of the of many castle sieges in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
   However, there is one big difference in these attack scenes. The battalion guarding the Great Wall
has bungee-jumping female soldiers. This is a great demonstration of women's ability and courage, and with the battalion led by the English-speaking Lin, the film raises its glass to women.
  There were comments that the film whitewashes history by portraying white men as the salvation of another culture (The Last Samurai and Avatar),  but one could say that interest in the film is sky high only because of the presence of the man who played Jason Bourne and who was stuck on Mars for a long time.
    I wouldn't have given the film a second look if it hadn't been for Damon.
   Also, the  bravery of the Chinese is beyond doubt, even though it's William who motivates a crestfallen clumsy soldier. 
   William and his comedic sidekick Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal of TV's Game of Thrones and Narcos)
are desperately looking for a mythical black powder (gunpowder) to take home with them. I enjoyed Tovar. He's a ruffian who looks out only for himself but his loyalty for William knows no bounds. His jokes also lighten the mood of the film.
   A chance encounter gets them face time with the battalion that is preventing the froggies from breaching the Great Wall and reaching an ancient capitol. The froggies look as menacing as the Orcs, even though its improbable that a certain object can control them.
    William is a thief, liar and killer but his meetings with the Chinese, particularly the lovely Lin, soften his rough demeanour. He has never known anything else other fighting in wars, but she tells him that there's more to life than fighting for food and money. She says she fights for trust, which is mentioned thrice in the film.
  There's a little cheesy East meets West exchange of ideas and values going on here, which is normal in films where whites bump into Asians.
   Andy Lau plays English-speaking Strategist Wang and Willem Dafoe plays another mercenary who's been stuck on the Great Wall for eons.
   William's transformation is expected in films where the mercenary is converted by a cause, or maybe a pretty Asian. Sure, he joins the Chinese in their battles against the greedy froggies, but in the end, it's the pretty Asian who'll leave an imprint on your mind. 
  2½ out of 5 stars


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