Between courage and fear. Between monsters and men. A wall stands that must never fall.
Academy Award® winner MATT DAMON (The Martian, The Bourne franchise) leads humanity’s greatest fight for survival in The Great Wall, from Legendary and Universal Pictures. When a mercenary warrior (Damon) is imprisoned within The Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of our world.
As wave after wave of marauding beasts, intent on devouring the world, besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront this unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force.
Directed by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, ZHANG YIMOU (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), the action-fantasy marks his first English-language production and the largest film ever shot entirely in China. To create The Great Wall, Yimou has assembled a formidable cast and filmmaking team that represents the best of East and West in a unique global production that delivers unmissable spectacle on the grandest scale.
The thrilling adventure comes from an original screenplay by the writing duo CARLO BERNARD & DOUG MIRO (Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and TONY GILROY (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy). It is based on a story by MAX BROOKS (World War Z) and EDWARD ZWICK & MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ (The Last Samurai, Love & Other Drugs).
The film is produced by Legendary CEO THOMAS TULL (Godzilla, Jurassic World), CHARLES ROVEN (American Hustle, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy), JON JASHNI (Pacific Rim, Warcraft) and Legendary East CEO PETER LOEHR (Shower, The Children of Huangshi).
The quartet guided the production along with executive producers including Legendary’s JILLIAN SHARE (Pacific Rim, Warcraft), longtime Roven associate ALEX GARTNER (Warcraft, Get Smart), E. BENNETT WALSH (The Kite Runner, Kill Bill series), LA PEIKANG (Warcraft) and ZHANG ZHAO (Paths of the Soul). Co-producers on the project are veteran Chinese filmmaker ZHANG “ER YONG” WANG (The Children of Huangshi, The Postmodern Life of My Aunt), ERIC HEDAYAT (Date Night) and ALEX HEDLUND (As Above, So Below).
In The Great Wall, Damon stars as William Garin, a battle-scarred mercenary and master archer taken captive by a secret army of elite warriors known as The Nameless Order. In a vast military outpost called the Fortress City, they fight to protect humanity from supernatural forces upon one of the greatest defensive structures ever built: The Great Wall. On his journey, Garin is joined by PEDRO PASCAL (Netflix’s Narcos, HBO’s Game of Thrones) as his sword-wielding sidekick, Pero Tovar, a tough, wise-cracking Spaniard who has become a brother-in-arms to William; and two-time Oscar®-nominee WILLEM DAFOE (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Ballard, a shadowy prisoner inside the fortress who plans his escape from his longtime captors while hoping to pilfer their greatest weapon during his getaway.
Toplining the production’s esteemed, superstar Chinese cast are a widely celebrated Asian industry veteran and one of its rising new stars. The renowned Hong Kong actor ANDY LAU (House of Flying Daggers, Running Out of Time, Infernal Affairs) reunites with director Zhang as Strategist Wang, the sage alchemist inside the fortress…whose clever inventions help its inhabitants keep the monstrous forces at bay. He is joined by breakout actress JING TIAN (Special ID, Police Story 2013, The Man from Macau) as Lin Mae, the fearless fighter and leader of the fortress’ balletic, gravity-defying aerial warriors, the all-female Crane Corps. In turn, she ultimately rises to command the outpost’s entire military faction, The Nameless Order, against the creature attacks.
The film also features a supporting cast of seasoned Chinese talent that includes veteran actor HANYU ZHANG (Assembly, The Taking of Tiger Mountain) as General Shao, the patriarch who passes his command of the fortress’ troops to Lin Mae; LIN GENGXIN (Bubu jingxin, The Taking of Tiger Mountain) as Commander Chen, the leader of the Eagle Corps, the crossbow marksmen who skillfully brandish the weapon with deadly accuracy; EDDIE PENG YU-YEN (Jump Ashin!, Rise of the Legend) as Commander Wu, who leads the Tiger Corps, the fortress’ engineering and artillery forces, against the supernatural enemy; XUAN HUANG (Breaking the Waves, The Golden Era) as Commander Deng, leader of the fortress’ cavalry, the Deer Corps; ZHENG KAI (China’s TV hit Running Man) as Shen, Strategist Wang’s imperial liaison whose political agenda conflicts with The Nameless Order’s mission; and CHEN XUEDONG (the Tiny Times 1.0 trilogy) as one of the fortress’ Imperial Guards who will readily sacrifice himself to save the empire’s royalty.
The Great Wall also welcomes to its cast a pair of China’s pop-music sensations—LU HAN (the band EXO) as Peng Yong, a soldier struggling under the command of the Bear Corps’ Gen. Shao who must overcome his fear and prove himself heroic during the creature onslaught; and JUNKAI WANG (frontman for China’s TFBOYS), who makes his professional acting debut as The Emperor, the 17-year-old royal ruler tested before his time. They are joined by a pair of young Chinese actresses who portray lieutenants in Lin Mae’s Crane Corps—YU XINTIAN (Death Is Here 3 & 4) and LIU QIONG, a student at Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama who, like Junkai Wang, makes her professional acting debut in the film.
For the epic fantasy-adventure, Zhang has assembled a topnotch technical team behind the cameras. This includes two-time Academy Award®-winning production designer JOHN MYHRE (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha); costume designer MAYES C. RUBEO (Warcraft, Avatar); editors MARY JO MARKEY (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek) and CRAIG D. WOOD (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Rango); and cinematographers STUART DRYBURGH (The Piano, Once Were Warriors, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and ZHAO XIAODING (his 10th collaboration with ZHANG YIMOU, one that began with House of Flying Daggers), who utilized for the first time the Aeroflex Alexa 65 camera, capturing the fantasy in grand 6K resolution while bringing a new level of visual fidelity to the big screen.
Joining this team are five-time Oscar® winner RICHARD TAYLOR (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), whose WETA Workshop designed the film’s vast arsenal of weaponry; and visual effects supervisor PHIL BRENNAN (Snow White and the Huntsmen, The Wolverine), who teams up with ILM Far East VFX supervisor SAMIR HOON (Star Trek Into Darkness, Hitman Agent 47) to create the story’s predatory Tao Tei creatures. Collectively, the film’s cast and technical crew celebrate 25 Academy Awards® with 43 additional nominations.
The Great Wall filmed entirely on location in China, the largest Hollywood co-production ever mounted in the world’s fourth-largest country. With the exception of China, Universal Pictures will distribute the film globally. China Film Co., Ltd, along with Le Vision Pictures, Legendary East and Wuzhou Distribution will oversee the Chinese release.
What Lies Beneath:
Introduction to the Story
The Great Wall is set in ancient Northern China, as mercenary William Garin leads a quintet of battle-scarred warriors—on the run from warring desert factions—who hunger for wealth, power and glory. One of the group, a Frenchman named Bouchard, possesses knowledge of a new weapon, an explosive powder that could bring them all the riches they seek. This gunpowder is a fabled explosive so rare and valuable at the time that it became the ‘holy grail’ of war, a deadly treasure some would die trying to pursue.
After barely surviving a hair-raising scrape with a desert tribe, the group is attacked one night at a remote canyon campsite by an unseen enemy. Before losing their companions in the attack, Garin and Tovar recover a strange, magnetic stone along with another trophy—a severed claw from whatever ferociously attacked the bunch. Something he’s never seen before.
Now severely outnumbered, the two survivors reach The Great Wall and surrender to an unknown army of warriors called The Nameless Order, who reside inside a protected environment called the Fortress City—a bustling military outpost with incredible technologies that help protect its residents from something evil outside The Wall.
Once imprisoned, they are shackled and interrogated at a tribunal led by a trio of leaders inside the barricade. They include General Shao, revered commander of The Nameless Order (a vast army of soldiers, numbering over 100,000, divided into five regiments defined by their colorful uniforms, animal mascots and individual disciplines); Strategist Wang, the fortress’ resident scientist and historian; and female warrior Lin Mae, who commands one of the five battalions—the all-female Crane Corps of fearless aerialists.
They question the pair not only about the creature’s limb, but something else Garin recovered before slaying the monster. Something that intrigues the fortress’ wise man and scientist, Wang—the mysterious lodestone, a magnet, that could prove beneficial in their ongoing fight against their malevolent enemy outside The Wall.
Shao, however, is fascinated by the severed claw, which belongs to a savage species called the Tao Tei, a breed of ancient, mythical beasts living deep within the Jade Mountain that rises every 60 years for eight days to feed upon humanity and punish mankind’s greed.
The Tao Tei is an evolving race with a three-tiered attack force and telepathic mentality whose existence has been kept secret from the general population for centuries—merely legends and rumors to those who have never seen them or battled them face-to-face. Thus, the intrigue and wonder over Garin’s battle prize, the first time these Chinese warriors have ever held the inhuman creature’s claw in their own hands. Any man who could slay a Tao Tei in close quarters combat must be a great warrior indeed.
With no immediate answers for their inquisitors, Garin and Tovar realize they may never make it out of the walled city alive. While imprisoned in the fortress’ barracks, they befriend a shadowy inhabitant named Ballard, a longtime captive inside The Wall, who may be their only chance for survival and freedom. Ballard shares his plan of escape from the fortress with the pair of mercenaries while also revealing a powerful new weapon developed by his captors, something the pair had traveled the world trying to find—gunpowder. Ballard’s plan? Steal the Order’s “Black Powder” weapon and escape the fort, sacrificing honor for wealth.
As Ballard recruits Tovar and his plan takes shape, Garin begins questioning his own allegiances when he witnesses the sacrifice, unity and honor among the fortress’ warriors after helping the Order defend its ranks from the Tao Tei during a brutal battle, proving himself a heroic fighter. As an explosive final skirmish with the creatures looms, Garin must decide: surrender to his mercenary ways and flee with Ballard and Tovar, or rise to greatness and join The Nameless Order in their ongoing onslaughts on The Great Wall…knowing his choice could mean the difference between life and death.
The Reel Wall:
Development of the Film Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures, along with China Film Co., Ltd. and Le Vision Pictures, present The Great Wall, an epic action-adventure depicting a monstrous threat hidden for centuries behind one of the greatest manmade wonders of the world.
Set in an alternate vision of ancient China (circa 1100 A.D., during the Song Dynasty), the story imagines that The Wall was built to defend against a mythical Chinese creature called the Tao Tei (historical spelling, “Taotie”), a malignant species and gargoyle-like figure from Chinese mythology that rises every 60 years from the heart of the Jade Mountain to attack in vast, swarming armies and feed on humankind.
“I remember being told when I was young that the magnificent Great Wall of China was the only manmade object one could see from space,” says producer and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull. “True or not, I never forgot that, and when I set out to create a company known for its monster movies, I wanted to make one that combined my love of the genre set against this magnificent structure.
“I always wondered what was so important and compelling to have a country build a structure that big, that incredible,” Tull continues. “At Legendary, we like monsters, so my geeky brain went to work on the idea of a country building this wall to keep monsters out.”
As Tull developed the idea with The Great Wall’s story and screenplay writers, he discussed the idea of a European soldier of fortune wandering Asia in the Middle Ages who comes upon a magnificent structure that covers the entire horizon. When the mercenary approaches, he is told that the guardians are preparing for the attack.
“During the course of developing the screenplay, Western writers actually discovered the Chinese legend of a monster called the Taotie [historical spelling],” adds producer Peter Loehr, who has spent the last 25 years of his career working in China. “The Taotie is actually quite well known in China.
“There’s a fantasy book called the ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ which dates back 2,500 years,” Loehr continues. “In the book, they set out different types of monsters, goblins and demons, and the Tao Tei (our spelling) is one of them. The Tao Tei, in the fantastical ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ as well as historical records, are portrayed as gluttonous. They eat incessantly, so much so that when there’s nothing left to eat, they eat their own bodies.”
Producer Charles Roven, who is known for his indelible print on blockbusters from The Dark Knight trilogy (alongside Legendary), Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the much-anticipated upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League, was brought onto the production by producers Tull and Jon Jashni. He walks us through his initial involvement in the film: “Alex Gartner and I were invited into the project by Thomas and Jon; thereafter, we were part of the original story development.”
Roven reflects on his intrigue at the premise of The Great Wall: “At the time period of our story, the Chinese were among the greatest societies…creating things the West had never seen. The gunpowder they’d invented motivates the mercenaries in our story, who are Western savages initially only out for themselves. When they come across this secret society that is trying to preserve humanity, it makes them reevaluate everything.”
Producer Jashni explains that the production team long aimed to acknowledge and honor both a bygone historical period and a long-ago era of filmmaking—one in which the sets were built to scale. “These structures were built, both then and now, to incite awe and respect,” he notes. “We knew we wanted to depict the inner workings of The Wall as practical. One might think of it as going inside a clock. It seems to do something fairly simple from the outside, but what allows it to appear so simple is rather complex. The audience might rightly assume that The Wall is merely capable of defending—by virtue of its height and its impenetrability—that which is protected behind it. We wanted to surprise them by also having The Wall be able to 'fight back’ in clever and unexpected ways.”
“When we began this process, Legendary wanted to make a movie that was truly an East-West collaboration,” states Tull, who opened his Far East production base, Legendary East, in Beijing in 2012 and garnered success not long after with the Chinese release of Pacific Rim in 2013. “A movie that was not just a local story, but one with global appeal as well. We found the perfect director in Zhang Yimou, one of the best in the world. What a privilege to be able to have him direct this.”
In fact, Zhang Yimou is one of the planet’s most celebrated filmmakers. Among his two dozen feature credits, he directed the first Chinese production to earn a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award® nomination, Ju Dou (1990), with two more nominations for Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Hero (2002).
Among many career triumphs, he won global accolades for his magnificent staging of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympiad, a feat that fan and fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg called “the grandest spectacle of the New Millennium from this creative genius.” That accomplishment landed Zhang as runner-up for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year.
“When I started learning about Chinese cinema 25 years ago, Zhang Yimou’s early work stood out to me,” offers Loehr, who speaks fluent Mandarin. “His early work evolved into these great martial arts epics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. And who could forget the Olympics when you’re talking about that body of work?”
As Legendary considered filmmakers for this huge production, it required the ability to straddle two cultures, to tell a very Chinese story in a way that an international audience would love. Loehr points out: “Zhang Yimou seemed like the natural choice because he had done that in his films. He did it with the Olympics as well. Here, he took something that was inherently Chinese and made something truly amazing.”
Roven agrees with his fellow producer, raving: “The Great Wall has all the visual splendor and spectacle of an extravagant film, and it is shot amazingly by one of the most iconic filmmakers working today. His visuals are stunning, the colors that he uses are incredible, and the shots that he designs—whether they’re regular 24 frames or slow-motion—are art.”
The filmmaker also appreciated that Zhang Yimou embraced the throughline of cultural collaboration that permeated the story. “Watching Yimou, with his cinematic vision, translate the script into a unique way of creating spectacle is an unforgettable memory. He was quite interested in blending the cinema styles of Western tent-poles with Chinese filmmaking,” notes Roven. “Here was material that was completely conducive to it, and we were thrilled that he wanted to join the production.”
Once the director was welcomed onto the team, Roven found him to be a unique collaborator, one whose thoughtful insights and fascinating inspirations brought life to The Great Wall’s story. “Yimou contributed an enormous amount to what became the final vision of the movie,” says Roven. “A few examples are the fog battle, as well as opening the film up with the climactic sequence away from The Wall. It has been a great collaboration with Yimou and a thrilling experience working with our ‘East-meets-West’ crew.”
“The Great Wall is in the lyrics of our National Anthem, so it symbolizes the same thing in the heart of all Chinese, which is our people, our country and our history,” reflects Zhang Yimou. “We use it to express many things spiritual. To all of us in China, The Great Wall is a symbol of China’s national spirit. It resonates in every Chinese person, as a symbol of our traditions and our flesh-and-blood.”
The filmmaker believes that applies to this story as well. “In the movie, The Great Wall symbolizes the safeguard of peace and national spirit,” he continues. “I thought the screenplay was a special story, especially when you look at The Wall from a different angle. The Wall was built to protect our homeland from invaders. From this perspective, it makes little difference whether the enemy is people or monsters.”
For Zhang Yimou, to mount this undertaking would be to celebrate enormous pride. “This is a movie about Chinese history and culture shot entirely on location in China,” he reflects. “What attracted me most was the Chinese cultural elements. Yes, it is a monster movie, but I believed I could still express myself through it. It is a fascinating story with interesting themes and emotions.”
He elaborates on producer Loehr’s summary of the film’s antagonists: “For the monster Taotie, we did a great deal of research, including ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ the classic Chinese text and compilation of ancient myths, which is China’s oldest fantasy novel,” states Zhang. “They were born because of human greed. They eat massively. We Chinese still use the word and terms to this day. In traditional culture, ‘Taotie’ is a big eater. So, it’s linked with great banquets and feasts in China. Taotie has a cognitive position in Chinese culture. Taotie exist because of humanity’s greed, so they are man’s worst enemy. It’s the greediness of humanity that produced Tao Tei, and it now recoils on humans.”
According to Chinese mythology, fear of the monster led its image to be cast often on ancient and ritual bronze vessels, daggers and weapons. Along with Taown, Hun Dun and Qiong Qi, it is one of the Four Fiends, prominent Chinese demons representing evil virtues. So intimately are the Taotie imbedded into the culture, they have even been found on Chinese currency.
“To begin with, it has lots of mysteries,” he continues. “What’s the story about the monsters? How did they come into being? What are their weaknesses? How many years have humans fought against them? What kinds of feelings and connections have been built among these warriors during the fight? How do they survive, or do they die in the end? There were many things to tell. It is totally different from all other monster movies.”
Zhang Yimou appreciated the focus on such a cultural touchstone. “What mattered most was the script,” he says. “The script was written by Americans, and I provided suggestions from a Chinese perspective. They welcomed and liked my ideas. It was revised and polished, trying to make it acceptable and likable to both Westerners and Chinese. That was the hardest job.”
“Every genre has its limitations, and that certainly applies to monster movies,” Zhang observes. “You have to establish a set of rules. Taotie is an ancient monster that comes from our imagination. The rest of this story stands on solid ground, based on actual history. We didn’t want our characters to have supernatural powers. In that case, there would be no limits. So, what we did was to set strict and basic, but very real, limitations. We placed ourselves in a realistic world, and we created an honest story. We designed everything within those limits, such as the actions, the weapons. Because The Great Wall is a very real object, a cornerstone that was built one brick at a time. We approached the layers of our story in the same way.”