The Great Wall falls flat with US movie audience

By Amy He in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-02-22 12:10
The Great Wall falls flat with US movie audience

Despite an all-star cast, the biggest budget for any movie shot in China and the ambitious goal to prove that China can produce blockbusters that will be well-received in the US, The Great Wall opened to a paltry box office amount of $18.1 million in the US during the President's Day weekend.

The Zhang Yimou-directed fantasy movie starring Matt Damon was well-received in China, where it has made more than $170 million since its December release, but as of Tuesday it has made $21.7 million in the US. It was third at the weekend box office, trailing The Lego Batman Movie and Fifty Shades Darker, two movies that opened the prior week.

Its worldwide box office total is $266 million. "This is absolutely a strategy that's worldwide," said Nick Carpou, distribution chief for Universal Pictures, which distributed the film.

"Worldwide, we are one of many markets," he told the Associated Press.

The China-US co-production movie had a budget of $150 million, and is the most expensive movie to ever shoot in China. The Great Wall is Zhang's first English-language film and 3D film.

In addition to Damon - popular in China for his work in the Jason Bourne franchise - the film features Andy Lau, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal.

During a press tour for the film, Zhang said the movie will serve as a template for future co-productions.

"It's very much like the United States and China working together," he said in an interview with NBC News. "It's going to symbolize how two countries collaborate."

Damon said that collaboration was a theme of the production: "Half our crew was Chinese, and half our crew was international, and so we had 100 translators working between the production office and on set."

The film was produced by China Film Group, Le Vision Pictures, Legendary Pictures, a division of Legendary Entertainment. In January, Legendary founder Thomas Tull resigned as chairman and CEO nearly a year after he sold Legendary to China's Dalian Wanda Group for $3.5 billion. Wang Jianlin is the billionaire chairman of Beijing-based Wanda.

The Great Wall has been riddled with controversy since teaser images were released in the US last year. Stills from the movie showing Damon as the film's protagonist drew backlash from critics and celebrities who said that the story was another example of a film that perpetuates the myth of a white man saving the world.

The movie is centered on Damon as a European mercenary in China who teams up with Chinese soldiers to defend the Chinese from monsters called the Taotie. Both Damon and Zhang responded to the criticism saying that the protagonist had been intended as a European man from the outset and that the character was not originally conceived as a Chinese person.

"The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them - the other four are all Chinese. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film," Zhang said in a statement in response to the criticism in August.

The movie scored a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a US review aggregator for film and television.


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