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It's also impossible to tell from the ads exactly what the movie is about.

In her book Hollywood Made in China, University of Virginia media professor Aynne Kokas notes that in policy circles, China's perceived lack of cultural sway compared to its economic might is called a "cultural trade deficit", which they are keen to close.

"I believe that history belongs to the cooperators", the actor said, before noting that he doesn't think "Mexico is going to pay for our infrastructure any more than we're going to pay for their highways, you know what I mean?"

While China works towards developing those English properties, Sino-U.S.co-productions are making use of the country's lavish new production facilities - like Wanda's Qingdao Movie Metropolis, where The Great Wall was filmed, which boasts a green screen-equipped, 56,000-square-foot outdoor stage, a permanent model of a New York City street, and yacht parking. Both are also expensive: The Great Wall's budget estimate of $150 million seems low, as does the $40 million for the relatively star-free Wellness; Fist Fight, meanwhile, cost around $20 million, and even Ice Cube's lowest grossing comedy this decade, Lottery Ticket, made $24 million domestic. Tovar is from Spain. Then, somewhere toward the end, it starts to poke fun at itself.

William manages to chop off the thing's hand before it falls over a cliff.

"This wall that they built was like a wider, fortified version of the real Great Wall", he marvels.

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The pair's tale of their encounter sends fear through the order, as they recount their own previous dealings with these monstrous foe. Seriously, that is the backstory. The Weaponized wall, too, is welcome spectacle, surprising with hidden chambers, concealed blades and oodles of deadly toys to unleash on hordes of Tao Tei. The lessons transform him, but prove less persuasive to Tovar and another English-speaking rogue who arrived earlier (Willem Dafoe). "From this perspective, it makes little difference whether the enemy is people or monsters".

The weak point of The Great Wall is the script, particularly the dialogue, which often sounds like a chopsocky dub of a third-rate martial arts picture.

But it is notable that Damon's presence in The Great Wall has the potential to have a normalizing effect on the "other" (in this case, Chinese characters) because of his reputation as "America's actor". Back and forth they push cultural backgrounds on one another, in the most forced, boring of fashions. Catapults launch flaming spheres, archery turrets fling arrows and "black powder" blows Tao Tei invaders to gooey smithereens - at least when blurry camera whips and choppy 3D conversions aren't scuffing up visuals.

"We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world", she wrote on Twitter. His cohorts all try to steal from their Chinese hosts and run away. Garin and his partner Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are captured by soldiers at the foot of the Great Wall, and when the Wall is stormed by an army of Taotie - ravenous dragon creatures, multiplied by the hundreds of thousands in sweeping, "Lord of the Rings"-style washes of CGI - Garin's warrior skills come in handy, and he's enlisted to help battle the bloodthirsty beasts". Fortunately, Good Will Hunting shows up to teach them that not all white people are bad. The trailer is exactly what we thought the movie would be, no so great. What project required Matt Damon to rock that man bun for years?

Maybe this'll teach us not to judge a movie by its marketing campaign. This is just one of them, and it involves Matt Damon fighting space dinosaurs off the Great Wall. The Great Wall isn't almost up to the level of his Chinese output, but Yimou knows how to competently make this scattershot, hodgepodge script work.

Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.


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