Director: Zhang Yimou; Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe. 12A cert, 103 mins.
One thing The Great Wall gets absolutely right is the walliness, because watching it feels like repeatedly banging your head against one. This fantastically tedious eyesore – a bilingual fantasy epic from Zhang Yimou – allegedly heralds a new era of artistic collaboration between Hollywood and China, as that country’s cinema-goers become a dominant force at the global box-office. As things have turned out, it’s hard to think of an equivalent-but-in-reverse cultural mélange that could match it for sheer, tin-eared fatuousness: perhaps a CGI-heavy remake of Gone with the Wind that swapped out Rhett Butler for Fu Manchu.
Matt Damon stars as a medieval Irish mercenary who finds himself in Song Dynasty China on a quest to find gunpowder – the fabled substance that “turns air into fire” – which he hopes to bring back to the West. His search takes him not to a city or a busy port, as you might expect, but the middle of a vast and almost entirely uninhabited desert, where one night he and his travelling party are attacked by a monstrous beast. Damon kills it and its body tumbles down a hitherto-unseen bottomless pit, but he manages to lop off a paw, which a local Chinese garrison identifies as belonging to a Tao Tie – a man-eating, four-legged Orc thing, seemingly millions of which live inside a nearby crashed meteor. Every 60 years they emerge en masse and lay siege to the Great Wall of China, in the hope of reaching the nearby ancient capital of Bianliang and feasting on the residents.