Zhang Yimou sees ‘The Great Wall’ as bridge between U.S. and China

Zhang Yimou said his big-budget film is a “collaboration between East and West.”

“The Great Wall” is a big-budget monster movie starring Matt Damon in China, a 3-D spectacle with top-of-the-line effects and countless extras engaged in battle scenes.

But the film is most interesting for the circumstances behind its creation — it’s the first English-language movie from the Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou (“Hero”) as well as the largest-ever China-U.S. co-production.

It’s also been subject to whitewashing criticisms for the casting of Damon at the center of the ensemble story about a secret order of guards protecting the wall, and all of China, from invading monsters.

amNewYork spoke with Yimou, through a translator, about the movie.

How would you address the criticisms surrounding the casting of Matt Damon?

This script had been in development for about seven years — I thought the story, and the background to the story, was very interesting, because it’s based on Westerners traveling to China through the Silk Road. It has historical connotations, historical backgrounds, that are real. … I do feel that this is a very good way to create a multi-cultural project.

There is a general sense of fatigue with the “white savior” concept, of course.

I don’t see this as a white savior movie. I don’t see it as a white savior story at all. I see it as a collaboration between East and West, between China and the United States. It’s actually something that’s very prevalent today; it really speaks to our current situation in a world where there’s more and more collaboration between countries, major countries like the United States and China need to work together. It’s not about a white savior, or a white man coming to save anything in China, it’s about a collaboration and working together. And that’s something that we need to strive for.

You’ve made big movies before and directed the Beijing Olympics ceremonies. Where does this huge production rank in terms of challenges?

This is one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on. First of all, it is in English. And then also, it’s a commercial film. So I cannot come to the project the same way that I’m used to in China. I’m at the helm of an international production and had to find commonality between two cultures. And also, at the same time, had to find ways to preserve my vision without confusion or chaos.

What is the future of international co-productions on this scale?

This is where a lot of the market is going, the co-production between East and West, between China and America. I do feel that this is a phenomenon, that there will be more productions like this. But of course, this is not the only thing that I would want to do. I like to try new things.

Robert Levin