So I was scrolling through twitter, like I usually do, and an ad for an upcoming movie shows up on my feed. The title of the movie is called The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe, Lu Han, and Andy Lau.
… Hello, Matt Damon! What are you doing in Song Dynasty China? Do you need to be rescued again? Also, Oberyn Martell is wielding an axe!
In all honesty though, I didn’t know what to feel when I saw this. After the representations chat in class, this trailer just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t even finish the whole trailer, actually, because I just thought “oh. Another film about a white guy in China that probably saves the world blah blah blah.”
Then I started to think about it. Am I offended?
So I watched the whole trailer, and it’s a fantasy movie about monsters on the other side of the Great Wall. Okay, sure. But it still doesn’t satisfy me. Why not, you ask? It’s a fantasy movie, which means everything is pretty much made up anyway, but I’m still not convinced. Even if Andy Lau is in it. Even if Zhang Yimou directed it. Because I feel like Chinese movies have been doing this kind of thing for ages already. Take Painted Skin for example, or A Chinese Ghost Story (omg. translations. why. The Chinese title 倩女幽魂 literally means beautiful girl ghost; if I had to translate the title it would probably be something like The Ephemeral Beauty). These movies are all historical fiction taking place in some ancient Chinese Dynasty, which to be fair, is pretty much the premise of The Great Wall. Perhaps I’m just desentisized to these now, because there have been so many in Chinese cinema and film that I really don’t care for another one, starring a white guy no less.
The question of representation and the insider/outsider status creates space for these types of discussion. Am I offended because an outsider is seemingly infiltrating into my supposed “insider” culture? The 3 out of 5 main cast and the director are Chinese, is this enough of a “representation” of culture? I don’t know. Also, question about subtitles or I guess movies in general: Hong Kong watches English films with subtitles all the time, because it’s “main stream”. What does it take for a foreign film to be shown in theatres here, in North America, or in any English speaking country, without being dubbed over? Do people here read subtitles?