After the New York Comic-Con panel for The Great Wall energized the crowd at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, I had the chance to attend a private press event featuring stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Wang Yunkai, and director Zhang Yimou.
Damon and Pascal had trouble hiding their total fanboy feelings towards their director, a man whom they both greatly admired for years for his filmography, including Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers. They routinely cited “pinch-me moments” on set. The first question went to the director about the process of making the film. He replied that it was developed over seven years and that he tried to add something unique to each shot, whether color or a specific action sequence.
Talking about what they learned from each other’s cultures, Damon said that he basically was living in China on and off for three years. They joked how his family adopted Pedro Pascal, but also how they were able to adapt to learning and understanding what Yimou wanted even without knowing the language. They both attributed this to Zhang Yimou’s incredible talent and passion as a director, as well as the hundreds of translators on set.
I got a chance to ask Damon and Pascal about how different it was for them to do the action sequences compared to their work on the Bourne films and Game of Thrones, respectively. Damon responded that nothing prepared him for the sheer scope of the production as he and Pascal could hear the drumming of the all-female Crane Core on set from far off, and there was nearly a half a mile of wall built and shrouded with green screen. Pascal added that even on set they would look at each other and marvel at the scope of what they dealing with. It was the biggest set either had ever been on, so nothing in terms of action compare. Damon laughed, adding that the Bourne movies were easy, you just walk on set and make stuff up.
Regarding the Chinese reaction was to Matt Damon being cast, Zhang Yimou said that they were supported 100 percent and this film is a milestone for Chinese cinema, and if it succeeds, it will forge new cinematic relationships with the West. The film, the most expensive in Chinese history — estimated budget around $135 million — will be released in China on December 16, 2016.
Jing Tian and Wang Yunkai were asked about working with such an established director. Both gushed over Yimou calling him a mentor and teacher. Yunkai was a musician in China and is making his first theatrical performance in The Great Wall. He said he is trying to follow the guide of his director.
Lastly, a relatively taboo topic was touched upon. Since the teaser trailer was released for The Great Wall, charges of “cultural misappropriation” were levied at the film and specifically at Matt Damon for being a lead white character in a Chinese production. Damon was particularly upset by these condemnations calling them a “f*cking bummer.” He said that as a progressive person, it’s hard to be charged with “white washing” especially on a film that features such a diverse international cast being directed by the “Spielberg of China.” These charges, he added, are bad for marketing. The teaser was supposed to tease the monster, while giving fans something they could grasp onto to. Sadly, many American don’t know who Zhang Yimou is yet, so Damon, who’s a prominent Oscar-winner, took center stage for the 30-second trailer. “I think you undermine your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it,” he said. Breaking the seriousness, Pedro Pascal denied the whitewashing charges. “We all know only the Chinese defended the Wall against monsters.”
From Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures, The Great Wall comes to theaters in the United States on February 17, 2017.
Keep it here at Geeks Of Doom all weekend for our on-site coverage of NYCC 2016 and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
[Images by Danny Torkel for Geeks Of Doom.]