With a greedy eye on each other’s markets, China and Hollywood join forces for this epic fantasy adventure starring Matt Damon and Jing Tian.
Even if the end result isn’t quite the blockbuster success either party would wish, it still has plenty to offer.
Flying the flag for the West, Damon plays an Irish-ish mercenary whose quest for gunpowder in ancient China lands him in the midst of a titanic scrap with giant monsters. It turns out that these prehistoric-looking beasts rise up every 60 years and that China’s Great Wall has been built to keep them back.
Zhang Yimou – director of the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and maker of dazzling martial arts epic The House of Flying Daggers – gives the action plenty of vim, with the Wall garrison’s colour-coded troops providing some aesthetically pleasing spectacle in the midst of combat.
The blue-clad all-female Crane Troop, led by Tian’s commander, are particularly impressive as they launch themselves, bungee-style, off the top of the Wall to do battle with the beasts below.
Of course, Damon’s heroic foreigner also shows his mettle and ingenuity before the story is through.
It is the screenplay that shows the strain, as the writers struggle to keep him in the thick of things and to explain why some of the Chinese characters should speak English.
That said, the dialogue is pretty clunky, although Damon’s mercenary companion (Pedro Pascal) does get the odd amusing line: ‘Think they’ll hang us now?’ he asks, ‘I could do with the rest.’
The film is best enjoyed, however, for its B-movie-style, creature-feature thrills.