For a great many years, the West has been the dominating force in the world, some would say we still are economically and militarily, however the West is no longer culturally dominant. The opposite in fact, much of the world, notably China has rejected the post-modernist Western culture.
And thus we stand in 2017 with China, a dominant economic power, looking to build its own culture and mythos, and just as important, to bring this culture to the rest of the world to influence and persuade "the barbarians" as the West used to do with Hollywood.
That makes for an interesting watch. What does China want to show us, how does China intend to seduce and persuade the westerner? The Great Wall tells us a great deal about that.
The Great Wall has a simple but effective plot. Two Western mercenaries travel to China to trade for black powder, but end up almost getting killed by some beasts. It turns out these beasts, the Tao Tei, are amassing to attack and devour China, the last stand for humanity against the evil hordes and that's where the wall comes into play, built to repel not the Mongols, but the Tao Tei.
The Tao Tei, or Taotie, are a mythical creature from Chinese mythology, a symbol of greed and gluttony. The battle at the wall, becomes a metaphor, the Middle Kingdom, walling itself off, despite its implied superiority, to not succumb to greed and gluttony and want of the world.
Similarly, the Chinese are portrayed to know the power of gunpowder, but to refrain from using it, due to its devastating power. The machinations of propaganda is felt.
The movie does many thing well. It's very pretty, its use of color almost kaleidoscopic in its beauty. It's nice to see something which isn't shades of gray, brown and black, so common in Western cinema. It has some fine battle scenes, worthy of Lord of The Rings (a clear inspiration), though they do drag out.
I found the most interesting parts in the meetings between the mercenaries, Matt Damon's role, vs the very pretty Chinese actress. Here we get to see the Westerner as viewed by the Chinese. They - we - are selfish, individualistic, adrift in a pursuit of fortune, but we're also brave and strong. We do stink though (take multiple showers a day when visiting China).
As the film progresses, the selfish rogue Matt Damon seems to find purpose, trust and sacrifice in the Chinese hierarchy and order. No doubt a clear message intended for western youth: You are adrift a sea of individualism and material want. We offer you order, grounding, hierarchy.
It's well done. I like it. If this is how China intends to deal with the world we are probably going to get along. I believe most of the negative reviews are from Hollywood insiders and fans, many of whom probably do not like the message portrayed to us here. How does it feel when the shoe is on the other foot huh? I give it 7 stars. Entertaining, not great, amusing at times, rarely thrilling. Lacks humor and romance. Maybe next time will be better?
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