Zhang Yimou’s new film is a laborious fantasy spectacular crossed with a CGI monster movie, set in the days of Imperial China, in a military garrison on the Great Wall. Here, it is revealed that the wall’s purpose is to keep out hordes of Tao Tei – terrifying creatures with T rex heads and great spiny teeth. There is, however, no way of making the Tao Tei actually pay for the wall.
credits a host of writers including Tony Gilroy, Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, whose opening credits cheekily claim that their story is based on one of the legends of the wall, while outrageously borrowing a key plot point from Jaws.
Matt Damon plays William, a mercenary adventurer who has come to China hoping to steal some of their explosive “black powder”. His weird accent suggests that Williams, like Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood, hails from that part of Tipperary that shares a border with County Durham. He is with his Spanish friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal) when they are captured by the Chinese: commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and strategist Wang (Andy Lau), who have a sneaking respect for the way these westerners handle themselves with the monsters. Will our heroes use the beasts’ uproar as cover to steal the black powder, or do the decent thing and help the Chinese battle these hideous creatures? The Tao Teis’ death agonies are as nothing to those of the film itself.