The arrival of the first trailer for Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall came with a ton of controversy and a somewhat new twist on the white-washing criticisms frequently levied against Hollywood. In this case you had an American superstar, Matt Damon, not cast in a role typically played by Asians, but as a white character in a story deeply-rooted in Chinese culture. Even that was found to be unacceptable to a large group of people. I found the argument absurd, personally.
Yimou didn't echo my sentiments, but he did have something to say in response to those worried Damon would be coming to the rescue of the Chinese like some kind of white messiah...
“In many ways ‘The Great Wall’ is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry. Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. 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. As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision. I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.”
Basically, this is a movie in which Damon battles aliens in a period setting. Relax. And trust that Chinese producers are equal partners in this production as it aims to attract that massive overseas audience. As such you'll see Andy Lau, Jing Tian, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han, Lin Gengxin, Zheng Kai, Chen Xuedong, Huang Xuan, and Wang Junkai in key roles along with American actors Willem Dafoe, Mackenzie Foy, and Pedro Pascal.
The Great Wall opens February 17th 2017.