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The Great Wall
East meets west, but the filmmaking heads south in director Zhang Yimou's hulking historical romp, which imagines a special effects-heavy monster mash atop one of the world's architectural marvels. The Great Wall is the most expensive film made in China and looks ravishing. Sweeping, panoramic shots of the man-made structure snaking across the countryside, or shrouded in heavy morning mist, provide a stunning backdrop to artfully choreographed battle sequences and slow-motion slaughter. Costumes and production design spare no expense, festooning the screen with hundreds of nameless extras in intricate armour, locked in fierce battle with hordes of computer-generated creatures under the control of a vengeful queen. It's Starship Troopers reset to the pomp and colour-saturated pageantry of imperial China, steeped in the myths and traditions of a regimented society that preaches unerring obedience to the Emperor above selfish personal advancement. Yimou doesn't disappoint when it comes to jaw-dropping spectacle, but the script, credited to a trio of American writers, repeatedly scrimps on coherent plotting and characterisation, with perfunctory dialogue in both English and Mandarin. Every 60 years, hordes of flesh-hungry, green-blooded monsters called the Tao Tei rise to punish avaricious mankind. A secret military sect called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and brilliant strategist Wang (Andy Lau), exists solely to repel these hideous beasts from atop the wall. Defences are divided between five colour-coded garrisons, each with a different specialty: the black Bear Troop of close-quarter fighters, the blue Crane Troop of spear-wielding acrobats, the red Eagle Troop of archers, the bronze Tiger Troop of heavy artillery experts, and the magenta Deer Troop of horseback warriors. Two mercenaries, William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), who are searching for "black powder", stumble into the middle of this brutal and bloodthirsty conflict. William is bewitched by the Crane Troop's beautiful leader, Commander Lin (Tian Jing), and pledges his support to the Chinese in their battle against the Tao Tei. However, Tovar reminds his murderous comrade that their fate and personal fortune rest on stealing gunpowder from their hosts with the help of another bandit, Ballard (Willem Dafoe). As the mighty queen Tao Tei issues her battle cry and creatures swarm at the foot of the wall, William must decide where his allegiances lie. The Great Wall is an exceedingly expensive and glossy B-Movie, elevated to entertaining hokum by directorial brio and solid performances from the international cast. Damon's accent is a wonder of the world by itself, ricocheting between Irish, English and gruff American from one scene to the next. He's more than a match for the physical rigours of the role, sparking pleasing screen chemistry with Jing, whose feisty and appealing heroine cuts through the swaggering machismo. Dafoe gratefully picks up his pay cheque for a nondescript supporting performance.