The Great Wall (film)

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The Great Wall
The Great Wall (film).png
US theatrical release poster
Traditional 長城
Simplified 长城
Mandarin Cháng Chéng
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Edited by Mary Jo Markey
Craig Wood
Distributed by
Release date
  • December 6, 2016 (2016-12-06) (Beijing)
  • December 16, 2016 (2016-12-16) (China)
  • February 17, 2017 (2017-02-17) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes[4]
  • China
  • United States[1]
  • English
  • Mandarin
  • Spanish
Budget $150 million[5]
Box office $332 million[4]

The Great Wall (Chinese: 長城) is a 2016 monster film directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon, who plays a European mercenary in China during the Song dynasty. He encounters the Great Wall of China and meets Chinese soldiers who defend against monsters. The Chinese–US co-production also stars Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau.

Principal photography for the film began on March 30, 2015, in Qingdao, China, and it premiered in Beijing on December 6, 2016. It was released by China Film Group in China on December 15, 2016, and in the United States on February 17, 2017, by Universal. The film received mixed reviews and grossed $332 million worldwide against its $150 million production budget and was deemed a box office disappointment.[6]


Searching for the secret of gunpowder, twenty European mercenaries have traveled to China during the reign of the Renzong Emperor (AD 1010–63). A few miles north of the Great Wall, they are pursued by Khitan bandits, who have already killed some of the men. Upon escaping, they seek refuge in a cave but are attacked by an unknown monster, leaving only William and Tovar alive, with the former having slashed off the monster's hand. The two decide to bring the arm with them. The next day, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao and Strategist Wang.

The Nameless Order is a Chinese military order commissioned by the Imperial Court of the Song Dynasty as a special division of the Imperial Army conceived for the sole purpose of repelling a horde of alien monsters who rise every sixty years. The commanding officers are shocked upon seeing the monster's severed hand, as the Order believed the invasion was still a week away. Suddenly, a large wave of monsters attack the Great Wall, and the battalions are mobilized. The Nameless Order is divided into five special units: the melee-specialist Bear Troop, the acrobatic-specialist Crane Troop, the archer-specialist Eagle Troop, the siege engine-specialist Tiger Troop, and the horse-mounted Deer Troop. Losses are sustained on both sides before the monsters' queen recalls her warriors. During the battle, William and Tovar are freed by Sir Ballard, a European who, like them had ventured east twenty-five years ago in search of black powder. William saves Peng Yong, a warrior in the Bear Troop from the attacking monsters. William and Tovar's battle skills earn the respect of General Shao and Commander Lin, leader of the Crane Troop. Later, William and Tovar meet Sir Ballard who had also been taken prisoner and had been serving as an English and Latin teacher. The three foreign mercenaries discuss plans to steal black powder from the storeroom and flee while the soldiers are occupied in battle. Later, Wang meets William and explains the situation: the monsters that he fought were Tao Tei, which originated from a green meteor that crashed in Gouwu Mountain two thousand years ago. The Chinese believe the Tao Tei were sent from the gods to punish the Emperor for abusing his authority over the Middle Kingdom and its people. They attack northern China once every sixty years, an invasion for which the Order has been training for their entire lives.

During the night, two Tao Tei reach the top of the Wall and silently kill several watchmen. Shao and Lin lead the Deer soldiers to investigate, but are ambushed. The Tao Tei are slain but Shao, wounded beyond recovery, succumbs to his injuries and dies, leaving Lin to take command of the Nameless Order. Around this time, an envoy from the capital arrives with an ancient scroll which suggests that the monsters are pacified by magnets. Wang believes that the stone William carried all this time enabled him to slay the Tao Tei he fought before entering the Wall. To test the hypothesis, William suggests that they should capture a Tao Tei alive and agrees to help. This results in his delaying his escape plans, which puts him at odds with Tovar who nevertheless delays his escape plan to assist William, much to Ballard's chagrin. During the next attack, the Tao Tei are numerous enough to cause Lin to resort to using black powder rockets, whose existence had been kept secret from the Westerners until now. They manage to capture a living Tao Tei and prove the hypothesis. The monster is taken to the capital by the envoy. A short while later, a tunnel is discovered at the base of the Wall, which the Tao Tei queen has used to lead her hordes to the capital. While Lin investigates, Tovar and Ballard try to escape and knock William unconscious for resisting. William is then arrested by the Chinese soldiers, and despite being saved by a statement from Peng Yong, William eventually is locked up in the Wall. Some distance away, Ballard betrays and abandons Tovar, but is himself captured by the Khitans, who inadvertently kill themselves and Ballard after carelessly igniting the powder. Tovar reclaims the horses but is recaptured by the Deer Troop. At the capital, the envoy decides to show their theory to the Song emperor, but the Tao Tei wakes up and signals to the Tao Tei queen.

Knowing that the horde is approaching the capital, Lin orders the use of unstable hot-air balloons, to follow the Tao Tei. Before setting out for Bianliang, the capital, Lin passes the word to set William free, with Wang telling him to tell the outside world about the danger about to come, but William decides to stay and boards the last balloon with Peng and Wang. They arrive just in time to see Lin's balloon crash-landing in the now destroyed capital, and save her from being devoured. They land safely in the Emperor's palace, where Wang proposes an idea to kill the queen by tying explosives to the captured Tao Tei and giving it meat to be delivered to the queen. While transporting, a horde of Tao Tei breach the sewers. Peng Yong sacrifices himself to save the others.

With the Tao Tei released, Lin and William climb the tower to shoot a black powder rocket and detonate the explosives. Wang sacrifices himself to buy time for Lin and William to move to the upper floors. Two of William's arrows are deflected by the Tao Tei queen's bodyguards, but Lin's spear breaches the defenses after William throws the magnet into the horde. The queen is destroyed, and the rest of the horde is frozen solid. With the horde destroyed, William is given an offer, during which he forgoes the powder and instead frees Tovar, much to Tovar's annoyance. The two, guided by cavalry, begin their journey back to Europe as Lin, now the General, watches over them from the Wall. William says that he wants to go back, but jokes with Tovar, saying he doesn't trust him going alone.



On March 18, 2014, Chinese director Zhang Yimou was set to direct the epic film.[7][8] On November 6, 2014, Legendary East's CEO, Peter Loehr, confirmed that the film would be made with a budget of $135 million, that it would be completely in English and it would be the first English-language film directed by Zhang.[9] The film originally came from Legendary CEO Thomas Tull, who conceived the idea with World War Z writer Max Brooks. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) will be responsible for the visual effects and Weta Workshop will contribute practical effects (namely, weapons and props) to ensure a high quality film reminiscent of Hollywood productions.[10]

The company and I have been preparing for Great Wall for a long time. It is an action blockbuster. The reason I took the Great Wall project is that there have been requests in the last 10 or 20 years. Now the production is big enough and really appealing. And, very importantly, it has Chinese elements in it.

Zhang Yimou, director[11]


Principal photography of the film began on March 30, 2015, on location in Qingdao.[12] It is the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China.[2][9]

Three walls were built during production as they could not shoot on the actual Great Wall.[13] During the filmmaking, the director said the most impressive part for him was the presence of so many translators to handle communication as he assembled an international crew for the filming. More than 100 on-set translators worked with the various cast and crew members.[14]


The film's score is composed by Ramin Djawadi.[15] The first track called "Nameless Order" was released on December 14, 2016.[16]


The Great Wall was released in China on December 15, 2016. It was released on February 17, 2017 in the United States by Universal Pictures in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D.[17]


The Great Wall released its first trailer in July 2016. The trailer shows views of the Great Wall in fog, thousands of soldiers on a battlefield ready for war and a mysterious monster, as well as the roster views of the cast including Matt Damon and Andy Lau.[10][13]

A new song from Leehom Wang and Tan Weiwei was released on November 15, 2016, to promote The Great Wall. Bridge of Fate was composed by pop singer Wang with lyrics written by Vincent Fang, a long time collaborator of singer-songwriter Jay Chou. Female rocker Tan Weiwei joined Wang for a duet, but with two different vocal styles. Wang sang pop, while Tan performed a traditional Qinqiang - a folk Chinese opera style from Shaanxi Province.[18]

Chinese pop diva Jane Zhang released another new English song Battle Field and its promotional music video for The Great Wall on November 22, 2016. The song was composed by King Logan and Maroon 5's keyboardist PJ Morton and written by Josiah "JoJo" Martin and Jane Zhang. It was produced by Timbaland.[19]

Universal Pictures and Legendary Entertainment also debuted eight character posters of the film on November 17, 2016.[20] All in all, Legendary spent $110–120 million on promotions and advertising worldwide.[21]


Box office[edit]

The Great Wall grossed $45.2 million in the United States and Canada and $286.8 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $332 million, against a production budget of $150 million.[4]

In the United States and Canada, the film opened alongside A Cure for Wellness and Fist Fight, and was projected to gross $17–19 million from about 3,200 theaters in its opening weekend.[22] The film made $970,000 at 2,470 theaters from Thursday night previews and $5.9 million on its first day.[23] It went on to open to $18.1 million, finishing third at the box office behind the holdovers of The Lego Batman Movie and Fifty Shades Darker .[24]

In China, The Great Wall opened on December 16, 2016, and made $24.3 million on its first day and $67.4 million in its opening weekend. In the second weekend it grossed $26.1 million.[25] The film went on to gross $170.9 million at the Chinese box office.[26] It joined Terminator Genisys, Warcraft and fellow 2017 film xXx: Return of Xander Cage as the only Hollywood releases to earn $100 million in China without making $100 million in the United States.[27]

In March 2017, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the film is likely to lose about $75 million due to its underwhelming performance theatrically. While the film was a massive hit in China, earning over $171 million, the scenario in almost every other major markets, including the United States and Canada, was disappointing. The loss incurred by all four studios will however vary, with Universal Pictures, which funded about 25% of the film's $150 million production budget, losing around $10 million. The rest of the investors, Legendary Entertainment, China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures, will have an equal loss. However, since Universal also covered almost all of the film's global marketing expenses (which is above $80 million), the studio will incur an even more heavy loss. However, if the film is able to generate enough income through ancillary revenues (such as home entertainment sales and TV rights), it might be able to cover up the loss.[6]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 35% based on 179 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "For a Yimou Zhang film featuring Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe battling ancient monsters, The Great Wall is neither as exciting nor as entertainingly bonkers as one might hope."[28] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 42 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[29] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[30]

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, writing for The A.V. Club, gave the film a B- on an A to F scale, saying: "There is no logical reason for the film to climax in a tower of stained glass that paints Lin Mae and William in psychedelic Suspiria lighting, but boy does it look gorgeous in 3-D."[31]

Simon Abrams, a contributor for, gave the film a 3 out of 4 stars, summarizing: "The Great Wall is unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile. See it on as big a screen as you can."[32]

Clarence Tsui, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, gave the film a negative review, saying: "The Great Wall is easily the least interesting and involving blockbuster of the respective careers of both its director and star."[33]


White protagonist in Asian setting[edit]

Because some of the characters, including a main character played by Matt Damon, are white in a film set in medieval China, the film was accused of whitewashing and using the white savior narrative prior to its release.[34][35][36] After the film's release, Ann Hornaday, chief film critic for The Washington Post, writes that "early concerns about Damon playing a 'white savior' in the film turn out to be unfounded: his character, a mercenary soldier, is heroic, but also clearly a foil for the superior principles and courage of his Chinese allies."[37] Jonathan Kim, in a review for the Huffington Post, writes that "having seen The Great Wall, I can say that ... on the charge of The Great Wall insulting the Chinese and promoting white superiority, I say: Not Guilty. The question of whether The Great Wall is a white savior movie is a bit trickier, but I'm still going to say Not Guilty. ... On the charge of whitewashing, I say: Not Guilty."[38]

Director Zhang Yimou said that Matt Damon was not playing a role that was intended for a Chinese actor, he further criticized detractors for not being "armed with the facts" and stated that:

In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.[39]

Chinese critical response[edit]

The film's largest investor, the Wanda Group (owner of Legendary Pictures) has good relationships with the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China. In December 2016, users of film review website Douban rated The Great Wall 5.4 out of 10, which is considered very low. On Maoyan, another movie review aggregator, the "professional score" is only 4.9 out of 10.[40][41] On December 28, the Communist Party's official media outlet People's Daily published an article on its website severely criticizing Douban and Maoyan for doing harm to the Chinese movie industry with their bad reviews.[42] On the same day, Maoyan took down its 'professional score' for The Great Wall.[40]


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  2. ^ a b Ford, Rebecca (December 12, 2014). "Universal Pushes King Kong Film to 2017, Dates Great Wall Movie for 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  3. ^ "长城(2016)". (in Chinese). Retrieved October 30, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c "The Great Wall (2016)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 19, 2017. 
  5. ^ Patrick Brzeski (December 15, 2016). "'The Great Wall': Why the Stakes Are Sky-High for Matt Damon's $150M Chinese Epic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Pamela McClintock , Stephen Galloway (March 2, 2017). "Matt Damon's 'The Great Wall' to Lose $75 Million; Future U.S.-China Productions in Doubt". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 2, 2017. 
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  24. ^ "Another Holiday Weekend Where Holdovers Reign & New Studio Releases Tank: Presidents’ Day B.O.". 
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  32. ^ "THE GREAT WALL (2017)". Retrieved February 18, 2017. 
  33. ^ "'The Great Wall' ('Chang Cheng'): Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 15, 2017. 
  34. ^ Wong, Julie Carrie (29 July 2016). "Asian Americans decry 'whitewashed' Great Wall film starring Matt Damon". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2016. 
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  38. ^ Kim, Jonathan. (17 February 2017). "No 'The Great Wall' Isn't Racist Whitewashing". The Huffington Post. Accessed 27 February 2017.
  39. ^ Calvario, Liz. "The Great Wall Director Addresses Matt Damon Whitewashing Controversy | IndieWire". Retrieved 2016-12-15. 
  40. ^ a b "遭人民日报批评后 猫眼专业影评人评分下线". 网易. 2016-12-28. 
  41. ^ "万达豪赌《长城》背后:票房飘红 股价大跌". 中国经济网. 2016-12-27. 
  42. ^ "人民日报批豆瓣猫眼:恶评伤害国产电影". 网易. 2016-12-28. 

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