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China-Us epic 'The Great Wall' set to debut
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The Great Wall, a $150 million Sino-US coproduction featuring Matt Damon and Andy Lau, could arouse the curiosity of global movie fans about China's history. Xu Fan reports.

As a lackluster year for the movie industry is about to end, the spotlight is now on an upcoming fantasy epic, The Great Wall. The $150 million Sino-US coproduction, believed to be the biggest budget film shot entirely in China, is also being seen as a new way to tell a Chinese story to the world.

Zhang Yimou, one of China's top directors, says the chance to use Hollywood storytelling skills to popularize Chinese history and culture is why he agreed to direct this film, also the biggest-budget movie he has done.

Speaking at a recent event to promote the film, Zhang says: "Every year, more than 2 million foreign tourists visit the Great Wall, but the film will give at least 100 million across the world a chance to see this grand, magnificent structure. I believe the Great Wall will be the main attraction for moviegoers around the world."

The film, which features a celebrity-studded cast ranging from Oscar-winner Matt Damon to Hong Kong singer-actor Andy Lau, will hit Chinese theaters on Friday and open in the United States in February next year.

For over 2,000 years, the Great Wall has stood as a barrier shielding the country from invaders, but in the movie penned by three American writers, the wall is a weapon-filled base for an elite force fighting an army of monsters, Tao Tie (greedy for food), which hunt humankind every 60 years.

Zhang says the monsters based on The Classic of Mountains and Seas have characteristics found in Chinese mythology.

"They were designed to be large predators, not alien creatures. Just like they were depicted in the ancient volumes, the Tao Tie (in the film) have eyes in their armpits," he says.

Ancient China's cutting-edge inventions as well as the country's traditional musical instruments and costumes can be seen in the film.

He also says around 20 percent of the dialogue will be in Mandarin in both the domestic and international versions; both are predominantly in English.

Moviegoers will also see two other American actors, Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man films) in the cast, which also includes actress Jing Tian, veteran actor Zhang Hanyu, and heartthrobs Lu Han and Wang Junkai.

The movie has two of the world's top visual effects companies, Industrial Light and Magic founded by George Lucas and Weta Digital backed by Peter Jackson.

To understand what went into the making of the visual spectacles, these figures may provide a context.

The international crew, comprising more than 1,000 people from 37 countries, produced more than 5,000 "weapons" and 20,000 props.

Also, up to 300,000 Tao Tie monsters, created using digital technology, laid siege to the Great Wall.

Meanwhile, in an interesting twist, many domestic moviegoers are skeptical about the movie's plot despite the filmmaker's efforts to promote a new China-Hollywood model with his story.

A widely-echoed view on movie forums is that story is too Western, especially since it revolves around two Western mercenaries, one played by Damon and the other by Pascal.

But Zhang defends the plot, saying it gives the rest of the world a chance to immerse itself into a story about ancient China.

He believes a monster-themed movie will attract youngsters overseas, and then arouse their curiosity in learning about Chinese culture and some of the country's greatest inventions.

"This is the first time China is working with Hollywood to make such a big movie. I hope it succeeds so Chinese stories can go further into the world," he says.

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