How do you not go see a Yimou Zhang (Hero) film on the big screen? They have scope, emotion, and are visually stunning. OK, the emotion is sometimes a bit lacking as it often is in Chinese film epics. But get used to it. Warcraft and Great Wall are in the vanguard of a new world film order where collaborations with China are going to become more the norm. For years the international box office has been getting larger than the US domestic, China in particular, and the shift is now happening in earnest. Now, if you like bit fantasy/action flicks, this could be a good thing, but not everyone in the States has yet discovered or understood the fun of these films. But even I don’t want a steady diet of them. But let’s talk about the film itself…
There is a stunning pedigree to this movie. The story is by Max Brooks. (World War Z, the book) with the powerhouse writing duo of Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. But it was brought to script by Tony Gilroy (Rogue One) and the duo behind Narcos, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro. They actually thought through this world and the creatures. They’re intriguing and are more than just simple things to fight. It reminded me strongly of Pitch Black in many ways along those lines, even if it isn’t anywhere close to the quality of Pitch Black as a movie overall.
The story also cleverly gave Westerners Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) and Willem Dafoe (John Wick) as our way into this myth and culture. While they are fighters, they really play the part of the clowns, providing a fair amount of dry humor and reflection. For Chinese audiences, and those that watch Chinese films, there is an even larger cast of known actors. But it is Tian Jing in the female lead that stands out both as a great warrior and character. Though to be totally honest, it is also because she is almost the only other English speaking character so she has the most inter-action with the mercenaries that have found themselves in the middle of war they knew nothing about. There are other good performances, but the story focuses on her arc more than any other.
It is a beautiful movie, full of color and vistas and mind-boggling mechanics. And, yes, there is a ton of action. But there is also a story and a thought through history and biology. Does it make 100% sense? Of course not, it is a fantasy. But it has way more logic to it than I expected. Much like Warcraft, there was more there to chew on than anticipated.
If you like the big sino-epics, you will enjoy this film. If you haven’t yet discovered them or want to try one out, this is a pretty good place to get your feet wet. It is fun. It is pretty. It is, at moments, funny. And the story is pretty good, even if it could have been richer. And it is definitely a big-screen experience. As these collaborations mature, I think we’ll see more emotion and story become standard, though the cultural differences are going to be interesting to bridge on that front both in expectations and understanding. But, as I said, brace for it, because it is coming. Meantime, go jump on this ride.