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'The Great Wall' fails to please both Chinese and US audiences
   2017-02-22 11:27:59    Global Times      Web Editor: Zhang Xu

The poster of 'The Great Wall'. [Photo: Baidu.com]

The Great Wall, an architectural marvel that once divided China from invading nomadic tribes, is now serving to bring people together. After poor reviews from filmgoers in China, the lukewarm reception from North American audiences toward Legendary Pictures and Le Vision Pictures' The Great Wall shows that audiences in both countries have found the film disappointing. More importantly, the reviews from overseas have helped put to rest accusations that Chinese filmgoers and critics were deliberately smearing the international coproduction. 

Released Friday in the US, the $150 million budget US-China coproduction grossed only $5.9 million on opening day, ranking third after The Lego Batman Movie ($7.51 million) and Fifty Shades Darker ($6.77 million), both released the week before. Over its first three days in theaters, The Great Wall collected $18.08 million, allowing it to keep third place. The film wasn't the only new arrival to be beat out by older films, Fist Fight, A Cure for Wellness and Everybody Loves Somebody also failed to shine.

Along with this not-so-promising box-office performance comes poor reviews from both media outlets and regular audiences.

The Great Wall currently holds a 4.8/10 on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.3/10 on movie information site IMDB, while it holds a 5/10 on Chinese media review site Douban and a 7/10 on Chinese movie site Mtime.

"To watch it is to be aware of how little movies this size have to do with art and how much they are product, the result of a calculation involving actorly appeal and spectacle, because spectacle, not story, has the least cultural specificity and the most universal draw," writes movie critic Alison Willmore on buzzfeed.com. Even the more positive reviews were still far from flattering.

Alonso Duralde from The Wrap wrote, "If you calibrate your expectations to 'monster movie for eight-year-olds,' you may find some fun in this energetic and blissfully brief (a mere 103 minutes!) tale of the Chinese army battling alien beasties in the Song Dynasty [960-1279] era."

The criticism for The Great Wall, which takes place in China and tells a Chinese story, has actually been good news for some Chinese. When the film debuted in the Chinese mainland at the end of 2016, the extremely low scores on some websites angered some studio executives, who accused critics and some in the audience of deliberately attacking the film in an attempt to lower its average score.

Now that it's clear that Western audiences also share the same disappointment, Chinese netizens see this as proof that these accusations were unfounded.

"Douban should be weeping tears of joy right now. Its name can finally be cleared," netizen Nushen Xiaoshiping posted on Sina Weibo. 

While the film hasn't taken off overseas, it still reveals the ambitions of studios in China to take on a global audience.

The studios spared no expense when it came to star power. The Great Wall features major A-list names from China and the US both in front and behind the camera, including Matt Damon (The Martian), Willem Dafoe and award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern). They also hired two of the world's top special effects companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Weta Digital, to tackle the large amount of CG effects. 

The timing of the film's release was also very calculated.

Although six other new films premiered on the same day in China as The Great Wall (December 16, 2016), they were all smaller films with little star power. No big films were released the week before or after the film premiered either, meaning it didn't have much competition. As a result, The Great Wall easily dominated theaters, leading to a box office of 1.17 billion yuan ($170 million) in total.

As to the North American release date, it was a wise move to push back the film by two months as that enabled it to avoid face-to-face combat with Christmas hits such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing and Hidden Figures.

By comparison, the President's Day holiday has far less competition, which has enabled this not-so-great film to come in at No.3.



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