Last week, Matt Damon’s new film The Great Wall opened in China. The film is the largest scale co-production between China and the US ever created and was intended to be the first Chinese production with worldwide appeal, as well as inform Hollywood how future collaborations with China may go. But was the investment worth it? It seems possibly not.
While the film had a strong opening week in China, both US and Chinese critics have been quick to criticize the film’s attempt to combine Eastern and Western elements.
There was also previously controversy over ‘white-washing’ when Matt Damon was cast as the lead role, rather than an Asian lead. Wang Haige, the head of China’s People’s Choice Awards, had this to say about the final film:
That movie became one of the worst movies in China. [Damon] joined the movie because of the high pay… I’m against those stars who attempt to get more money to act in the more low-quality movie… Hollywood stars need to join the movies based on good stories and script, we need to show the audience the movie quality.
The Great Wall had already been pushed back from a November release date to a February release date, suggesting the producers possible awareness of its ‘low-quality’. There were also reports that there were unsafe conditions on set, with the cast and crew being exposed to hazardous chemicals. But despite this bad press, the film has made $67.4 million in its opening weekend in China.
Regardless of bad reviews, it seems that Chinese director Zhang Yimou as well as Legendary Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Le Vision Picture, and China Film Group, are very pleased with the final film. In the New York Times, Stanley Rosen, a USC professor who has studied China’s film industry over the last few years, defended the film, saying
If this doesn’t work, then I don’t know what will. The film addresses a lot of the previous issues that China has faced as it’s tried to internationalize its film industry, like language and the lack of internationally known stars.
Given that last week China reportedly finally passed the US in their total amount of theatre screens, this could be a significant event for US interest in China. Given China only allows 34 foreign films a year, co-productions are another way for the US to get films into the country. If this does prove to be a failure outside China, it may lead the US to creating separate content for the East, rather than trying to create content that appeals to both the East and the West. Or this might give filmmakers an idea of what elements are agreeable to both audiences, and help inform future decisions.
When the film is released in other countries next year, we will see whether it can become a true international blockbuster, reportedly meaning it will want to make about $200 million total.
The film will be released in the US on February 17, 2017.