‘Great Wall’ Producer on What Hollywood and China Can Teach Each Other


We didn’t set out to do that. It happened along the way. We thought, there’s been a perfect storm of events that allow us to actually make this movie. The Chinese market is now big enough that we can return a big part of the box office on this movie and we can bring in major Chinese partners at significant investments. Before, Chinese investors would say, “Oh, we’ll put in $5 million.” This time our partners are in for 30 percent of this movie. So we thought, “Maybe we can make a real Chinese story and maybe the world is ready for this in a way they weren’t before. Plus Zhang Yimou is amazing, and great actors and talented people want to work with him. Let’s just go for it.”

Photo

Peter Loehr on the set of “The Great Wall” last year in Beijing.

Credit
Jasin Boland

After the first trailer came out, there was a lot of backlash from people including Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat,” who criticized the movie as “whitewashing” for casting a white actor — Mr. Damon — as the main hero.

The casting of the movie was entirely organic. This is the way the screenplay was written. It’s not like that role was written as a Chinese person. It’s a plot point that this guy has to show up and do these things. He drives the plot.

It’s interesting that so far, we haven’t really seen any of the same discussions of race in this movie in the Chinese media. It seems to be a very specifically American issue.

With this movie, Zhang Yimou and I set out to defy every stereotype that you can think of. All the roles you constantly see Chinese actors in are not in this movie. There is no mafia guy, there is no triad guy, there is no prostitute. There is none of that. And there’s no stupid, phony, fake love story happening at the edge of the movie as the world is about to end.

I think when people see the movie they’ll think, “Wow, this is a big step in the right direction, and this is a true collaboration between actors in both countries and they at least have equal footing.”

What about the movie do you think will appeal to American moviegoers?

It’s a classic adventure story with a great group of heroes. Certainly there’s never been a movie shot on the Great Wall before, especially one in which you’re fending off monsters. Plus it’s a huge action canvas that works to Zhang Yimou’s strengths. Zhang Yimou was in Los Angeles for postproduction, and he played with the 3-D effects for eight months. So there are things you really haven’t seen before, like smoke coming out of the screen. He took things that he would use in a classic Zhang Yimou art film and melded it into a really commercial format in a really interesting way.