by Leona

It is the first of its kind, a Hollywood-China collaboration that combines the best talents from both worlds, and designed to succeed. Except it hasn’t quite ended up that way. Developing a storyline that appeals to both the East and the West is a tall order, especially when the tastes and cultures of both are vastly diverse. The result is a plot that doesn’t quite resonate with its audiences, but it does open our eyes to the innovative ideas and vivid imagination of its director, Yimou Zhang, arguably one of China’s best. 

With the Great Wall of China as the film’s backdrop, Zhang delivers a movie that mixes history and fantasy, injects his signature use of vivid colours, and assembles a cast of the most popular Chinese stars alongside Hollywood heavyweight Matt Damon. It’s a mammoth task to develop a production as massive as this. Now let’s take a look at six interesting facts and figures surrounding The Great Wall.

No actual filming at the Great Wall

The Great Wall might have served as the setting of the movie (and its title), but no filming was done at the actual site. The action-packed film features thousands of soldiers defending the wall from monsters; but any filming on-site would have caused substantial damage to the wall. Instead, three walls were built for the production.

The most expensive movie in China

With enormous sets, a stellar cast and extensive use of special effects, The Great Wall is the most expensive film ever shot entirely in China, with a production budget of US$150 million. We’ve not even added in the equally enormous promotion budget.

A small army of translators

The complexity of the movie production required an assembled crew from all parts of the world. This meant dealing with multiple nationalities, and to avoid getting lost in translation, over 100 translators were engaged to work on-site to communicate with the international cast and crew. 

Zhang Yimou’s first English film in Hollywood

Despite being renowned in Asia, Yimou Zhang has not previously made a crossover to Hollywood, unlike his counterparts such as Ang Lee and John Woo. Since his directorial debut in 1987 with the riveting Red Sorghum, which also launched the career of Chinese actress Gong Li, Zhang has won numerous awards and huge recognition. So illustrious is his career that Zhang was picked to direct the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. With over 20 films under his belt, including hits like House of Flying Daggers and Heroes (both enjoying moderate success in the US), Great Wall is Zhang’s English Hollywood debut. The closest he’s ever gotten previously was his collaboration with Christian Bale on the 2011 film, The Flowers of War, but that was primarily in Chinese and didn’t perform well Stateside. On his decision to enter Hollywood, Zhang says “It's an opportunity to export Chinese culture abroad."

Andy Lau’s debut movie in Tinseltown

Just like Zhang, Andy Lau is also a household name in Asia. Despite his immense popularity, Lau hasn’t followed in the footsteps of fellow artists like Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat, who enjoyed reasonable success in Hollywood in the late 1990s through to the 2000s. Lau started his acting career in the early 1980s and has become one of Hong Kong’s most successful actors, having amassed an impressive repertoire of over 160 films. Great Wall scores two firsts for Lau - it’s his first English speaking role; and his debut Hollywood movie. But don’t expect him to change his focus to Hollywood. “If I have the time and if the project suits me, then I might do it. But I am not aggressively trying to look for something from there. I prefer to make more local movies,” he said.

Pedro Pascal owes it to Zhang Yimou to be in Acting

For Pedro Pascal, his role in Great Wall is a dream come true. You might find him familiar; he appeared in Game of Thrones as Oberyn Martell in season 4. He was mercilessly crushed by Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in a duel scene. Pascal caught Zhang’s Raise the Red Lantern when he was 16 and was captivated by his delicate and insightful way of story-telling. Since then, he has developed a love for acting and never misses any of Zhang’s movies. When the opportunity came for a role in Great Wall, Pascal didn’t hesitate. It also helps that Zhang is a fan of Game of Thrones and remembered Oberyn’s brutal death scene. When they first met, Pascal’s first words were “I am here all because of you”. 

The Great Wall Featurette - A Look Inside