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Matt Damon Plays a Chinese Folk Hero in 9 Minute “The Great Wall” Trailer

Two birds, one stone; whitewashing and pleasing the Chinese market.

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Before we start, let’s get something out of the way. You have probably never heard of this film, and you probably have absolutely no intention of seeing it. That’s absolutely normal because it looks terrible, but we are not the target audience. It is destined for something greater, a faraway land Hollywood loves: China.

This film tells the story of “an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure” and is directed by very talented Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou (known for Hero and House of Flying Daggers). At the very least the film is directed by a visual stylist so it will surely look good. It stars Jing Tian (soon to appear in Kong: Skull Island) and famous Chinese actor Andy Lau (of Infernal Affairs fame). It also stars Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe (our favorite psychotic rat). Weird right?
Firstly, Matt Damon is interpreting a popular Chinese folk hero. Sounds like a case of whitewashing right? It is. Producers face a dilemma because they need to appeal to the masses. The way to do that is to get a famous face and stick it on a poster. Getting an Asian actor as the lead for a movie that aspires to be blockbuster automatically ensures that the film won’t be a huge hit in Western countries. While this is sad, it is also true.
This is in now way a new trend, as we’ve seen John Wayne portray Genghis Khan, Peter Sellers as an Indian man in The Party (although it’s one of the greatest comedies ever made) and there’s been recent controversies with Doctor Strange and Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. Aziz Ansari even addressed this issue in Master of None and penned a great essay about it for the New York Times.  
Ultimately, producers don’t care, because this film isn’t marketed solely for American audiences. In the last few years, China has become a huge player in the film industry, while also representing an untapped market of a billion people. Right now, there’s a quota of 34 foreign films that can be released each year on Chinese soil. There’s a set of rules they need to comply to (censorship and all), and American films are trying to please China when they demand certain changes.
We live in a world where the success of a film is determined overseas, and since China is slowly about to become the primary world market, producers need to adapt and produce films that will appeal to both audiences. That means Matt Damon playing a Chinese folk hero, or Transformers transforming in China. Legendary Pictures was also just bought by a huge Chinese company for $3.5 billion, so it looks like we could see a lot more of this.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with American movies trying to add diversity to their casts to appeal to bigger audiences, it’s just depressing when a film is purely thought as a marketing campaign. We need more small scale films that slowly make the rounds on the festival circuit to prove that film is still the most powerful medium out there to tell compelling stories. We don’t need massive blockbusters purely made to entertain every continent. We don’t need The Great Wall.
Watch the trailer here and see for yourself.

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