Matt Damon in epic Chinese action

 

The Great Wall

Two and a half stars

Director Zhang Yimou

Starring Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Pedro Pascal

Rating M

Running time 103 minutes

Verdict An epic fantasy that crumbles under its own weight

A HOLLYWOOD superstar who can make even a pedestrian screenplay seem intelligent and a master Chinese filmmaker with a flair for ravishing visual imagery.

Matt Damon and Zhang Yimou must have seemed like the dream team for a $US135 million Hollywood blockbuster aiming to blend the best of east and west.

So what went wrong?

Perhaps the filmmakers were hampered by the clear commercial imperative for this thunderous creature feature — The Great Wall opened first in China, a new and increasingly lucrative income stream for American studios.

Or maybe something got lost in translation.

Zhang’s Bejing Film Academy classmate Chen Kaige had a smaller but similarly-puzzling misfire with his English language debut, Killing Me Softly, starring Joseph Fiennes, Heather Graham and Natascha McElhone.

The largest film ever to be shot entirely in China — by New Zealand cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano) — Zhang’s epic fantasy has more to recommend it than that.

Matt Damon for a start.

The actor is ranked among Forbes magazine’s most bankable Hollywood stars for good reason: he’s never less than watchable, even when he is barely recognisable.

In The Great Wall’s opening sequence, Damon’s grizzled, battle-hardened mercenary has been on the run for so long, he’s barely distinguishable from an animal — or his fellow travellers, for that matter.

It’s only when William and his rakish offsider, played by Chilean-born American actor Pedro Pascal, shave off their dreadlocks, that it’s possible to comprehensively tell them apart without a close-up.

Women play a powerful role in the majority of Zhang’s films (Judou, Raise the Red Lantern, House Of Flying Daggers) and The Great Wall is no exception.