Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Article excerpt

The Great Wall

No, I'm not going to talk about the proposed wall of a certain presidential hopeful. I'm referring instead to the Great Wall of China, which expanded from its earliest incarnations to span a staggering 13,000 miles. For centuries this wall protected the Chinese dynasties from invasion and helped shape a sense of Chinese cultural superiority.

In the upcoming American-Chinese coproduction The Great Wall, Hollywood star Matt Damon scales and rappels that wall with Jason Bourne empowerment. With an estimated budget of $135 million - the highest ever for a movie shot completely in China - The Great Wall was directed by one of China's finest filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, and photographed by Stuart Dryburgh, ASC, NZCS.

It's clear from the trailer and the PR surrounding the production that nothing but the best in action-adventure is to be expected. The film promises eye-shattering visual effects and sweeping historical landscapes never photographed before. Dryburgh decided to shoot the film largely with Arri's Alexa 65 camera, providing incredible detail and resolution.

To put it mildly, movies are popular in China. Just this year, the country's box office has already exceeded 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion), and the country has produced around 660 films. The explosion in film production has been so dramatic that Hollywood production companies are constantly being courted - if not simply bought lock, stock and barrel - by Chinese investors.

The Great Wall - among a number of announced action-adventure films - is the result of a continuing evolution of Chinese-American coproductions. But, even though our visual-effects wizardry can take us over the Great Wall at a speed unequaled in the landmark's 3,000-year history, the question remains: What happens when we land on the other side?

Well, we land in a cultural morass made all the more complex thanks to the enigmatic "human factor." After all, in addition to our wishful fantasies of superhuman abilities, films represent an expression of our shared cultural feelings, desires and ideas. And those cultures are fundamentally different between China and America.

Our modern cultural exchange began in 1971, when the U.S. table-tennis team was invited to visit Beijing for a friendly pingpong game. …

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