The Great Wall

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”)
Written by: Carlo Bernard (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), Doug Miro (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

For those prematurely concerned with another Hollywood whitewashing of Asian culture when “The Great Wall” was announced with star Matt Damon, rest assured: this is most definitely a Chinese movie with Americans along for the ride. With most of the dialogue in Mandarin (with English subtitles) and some of the Chinese film industry’s biggest stars in actor Andy Lau and acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, “The Great Wall” doesn’t feel culturally compromised (at least to this ugly American), but it doesn’t ever fully embrace its potential for mash-up weirdness either.

When a pair of European men, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), narrowly escape a monstrous creature while on the hunt for black powder in China during the Song dynasty, they stumble across the Great Wall as the color-coded soldiers prepare for an attack by the Tao Tie. The Chinese army, made of up archers, wall-walking infantrymen, and rope-assisted crane fighting women, are defending the capital from the creatures (essentially telepathic monster dogs who came to earth in a meteor and represent greed!). When William proves himself to be an effective warrior, he earns the trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and devises a plan alongside the Chinese soldiers to defeat the dog-monsters once and for all.

While “The Great Wall” isn’t a bad movie, it is mostly a boring one—and one that leaves what could be epic multicultural weirdness on the table. Damon is fine, if not totally committed, to the role of a semi-scoundrel looking for honor, but the trio of screenwriters (including frequent Damon collaborator Tony Gilroy) fail to drum up much internal conflict for William—or anyone else for that matter. “The Great Wall” presents its conflict (the fight against the telepathic dog-monsters from space), the threat they pose (the dog-monsters have breached the Great Wall) and the unlikely secret weapon Damon introduces (a magnet!) that can help take the Tao Tie down and save the planet in the process. If that sounds potentially bananas, especially in the hands of Zhang, you’d be right. But “The Great Wall” never lives up to its batshit crazy potential.

A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop

November 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ni Yan, Xiao Shen-Yang, Honglei Sun
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“Hero”)
Written by: Jianquan Shi (“Devils on the Doorstep”) and Jing Shang (debut)

While it’s a rarity, foreign countries have been known to take American movies and remake them for their own film industry. Sometimes the outcome is fantastic like in France’s 2005 film “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” a remake of 1978’s “Fingers” starring Harvey Keitel. More recently, there was “12,” a 2007 Russian remake of “12 Angry Men.” Other times, it’s evident that filmmakers have let their ambition get the best of them.

So is the case for artistically-savvy Chinese director Yimou Zhang (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”) and his film “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop,” a remake of the Coen Brothers’ first film, “Blood Simple.” Even without comparing Zhang’s version to the classic the Coen’s set on a Texas landscape back in 1984, “Noodle Shop” is nothing short of a debacle.

In “Noodle Shop,” wealthy restaurant owner Wang (Dahong Ni) hires police investigator Zhang (Honglei Sun) to kill his wife (Ni Yan) when he finds out she is having an affair with Li (Xiao Shen-Yang), a wimpy cook who works in the shop. The murder turns out more complicated than Zhang leads Wang to believe. Wang’s wife has purchased a gun from a Persian to protect herself. Zhang takes the money for the hit but turns out to have a much different agenda than simply going out and cutting down the couple with his blade.

As the story progresses, director Zhang and screenwriters Jianquan Shi and Jing Shang create a strong sense of silliness that far outweighs any tension or conflict between the main players. The slapstick takes center stage especially when secondary characters (Zhao and Chen, two bumbling employees of the noodle shop) turn what should be a merciless drama into a whimsy circus.

Sure, this is director Zhang’s version and he can set whatever kind of tone he’d like, but without giving consideration to the significance of the situation at hand, “Noodle Shop” isn’t effective. Even from a visual standpoint, Zhang has caught our attention with a lot more fervor in past films. Aside from the noodle making (a single scene which is actually quite hypnotizing), “Noodle Shop” is only a reminder of how well crafted the Coens’ debut film noir was and how inept remakes don’t always have to be credited to America.