Zhang Yimou

A Brief Note on The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou, China, 2016)

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A note on the much maligned The Great Wall, which I saw on the weekend: there is no characterisation to speak of, the plot is merely a serviceable monster story, and the theme would please China’s governing central committee. But…It is from the director of Ju Dou, (1990) and Hero (2002) and The House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). It has the most astonishingly beautiful use of colour I’ve seen in recent cinema. Yang and cinematographers Stuart  Dreyburgh and Xiaoding Zhao, plus the set and design people, have created colours so beautiful and so rarely seen in cinema, and then the way they put those colours together in a frame, make them work alongside each other not only to keep the eye on the action but also to please it, is quite exceptional. There’s a scene in a tower in the last great set-piece where the imperial palace is over-run by monsters, the tower is slowly falling apart, and every colour if the rainbow seems to break through — orchestrated and choreographed — in an extraordinary cacophony of colour that is just breathtakingly beautiful: how could so much be arranged to rest so easy and simply on the eye?  This use of colour is conveyed in gorgeous compositions and truly inventive use of camera. Visually, the film is like a Renaissance Masterpiece. As usual with Zhang, the acrobatics are wonderful to watch and there are scenes with women warriors diving into a sea of monsters with spears that is just dazzling to see. And though the characters are archetypes and not fully fleshed out, Andy Lau and Willelm Dafoe and Tian Jing are still worth looking at — if for different reasons — and Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal have great chemistry. It’s out now and if cinephiles aren’t bothered to see it on a big screen they’re not worthy of the name.

José Arroyo