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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, May 11, 2017 1:00 am

Director: 'Great Wall' crumbled over poor story

LOUISE WATT | Associated Press

BEIJING – Zhang Yimou says the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, “The Great Wall,” may have been down to a weak story, but he hopes other filmmakers won't be put off from attempting such ambitious Hollywood-Chinese collaboration.

“The actors are all very good; (star) Matt Damon and everyone was splendid,” the acclaimed director told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Probably the story is a bit weak, or the timing of it wasn't right, or we didn't do a very good job in making the film. There could be many reasons.”

Zhang spoke amid preparations for the Beijing opening of the stage play “2047 Apologue,” which he described as a “conceptual performance” linking Chinese traditional culture with an imagined future of how humans will interact with technology.

Producers of “The Great Wall” had hoped the movie with a $150 million production budget could buck the trend of China-U.S. co-productions failing to make a splash in both markets.

The script that has Damon and Chinese warriors fighting monsters with China's iconic Great Wall as protection took Hollywood seven years to develop. Zhang added elements of Chinese culture and his opulent visual style, seen in “House of Flying Daggers” and the 2008 Beijing Olympics ceremonies.

“The Great Wall” has pulled in a disappointing $45 million in the U.S. since its February release, though it has earned $332 million globally. In China, where it was released in December, it made $171 million, making it the eighth-highest earner in the country last year.

The movie was made by Legendary East, the Chinese arm of Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood studio now owned by Chinese real estate and theater chain developer Wanda Group. Other companies behind the movie include the state-owned China Film Group Corp.; Le Vision Pictures, a private film company affiliated with Chinese tech firm LeEco; and Hollywood's Universal Pictures.

Zhang said “The Great Wall” marked a milestone in the collaboration of Chinese and Hollywood producers.

“As the Chinese saying goes, 'all beginnings are hard.' I feel that this beginning is valuable. I hope that there will be more cooperation like this, that people won't stop just because the result wasn't so good,” Zhang said.

Pressed on whether he would attempt a Chinese-Hollywood co-production again, the director said: “It doesn't have to be me. I hope more people will collaborate like this.”

Zhang's new, much smaller-scale endeavor aims to start a conversation about the relationship between people and technology, and where this relationship is heading.

He called “2047 Apologue” a “conceptual performance, because it's not a show or a story.” Instead, he has hired Chinese folk art performers and companies from Europe and the U.S. to supply technology such as drones and robotic arms for the hourlong show that is broken into several “fragments.” It will be performed at the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing from June 16-18, and then tour several Chinese cities. It is slated to play in Edinburgh in August, as well as other countries that haven't been confirmed yet, the publicity team says.