Director Zhang Yimou enlists the friendly All-American face of Matt Damon to entice multiplex audiences to embrace subtitles, the glories of Chinese civilization, and the coming wave of Chinese cinema. (Damon’s face, scowly and granitic, is up to the task, his slippery accent isn’t.) The story feels American as well; specifically; it feels like a low-budget Western in which a highly skilled ne’er-do-well gets roped by a spirited gal into defending the town against a horde of nasties, and learns a thing or two about love and doin’ right in the process. Something bland and familiar to make the keening wail of the (beautiful) funeral ceremony a little less foreign, and the brightly color-coded armor of the Great Wall’s defenders a little less outlandish. It’s a hard movie to defend: the script whiffs most of its attempts at humor, the beastly baddies are dull demon dogs, and the action yo-yos between the ridiculous and the sublime. But I found it a strangely easy movie to enjoy, so that’s something. It probably helps that the copious CGI is just wonky enough in places to suggest the gratifying solidity of practical effects.
Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes