Fans of Matt Damon will be intrigued, or just plain excited, by his presence in Yimou Zhang’s latest epic, The Great Wall, due later this year. It’s a fantasy/action period piece that asks the question, why was the great wall built? Was it to keep people out, or was it to keep out – speak of it only in hushed tones – something far worse? If you’ve seen the trailer by now then you’ll already know the answer (and let’s just say it’s not Po the Kung Fu Panda). But if you haven’t, and you’re wondering what on earth Matt Damon is doing appearing in an historical drama set in China, then… join the rest of us.
Perhaps it was being able to work with Yimou, still one of China’s most distinctive and exhilarating movie directors, even if it’s been ten years since he made Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), perhaps his last movie to gain both critical and commercial plaudits worldwide. Or maybe it’s the chance to spend time in China itself, a kind of busman’s holiday. Either way, Damon is there taking part and kicking – whoa there! Nearly gave it away (let the trailer do that).
But it’s not the first time an A-list Hollywood star has appeared in a movie set in historical China. Tom Cruise was once The Last Samurai (2003), while more recently we’ve seen the likes of Adrien Brody and Nicolas Cage donning historical armour and pitching up in Chinese movies – Brody opposite Jackie Chan in Dragon Blade (2015), and Cage taking Hayden Christensen under his wing in Outcast (2014). In all three of these movies, the presence of such stars has no doubt been encouraged to help boost international sales (and The Last Samurai was hugely successful, raking in over $450 million), but the so-called Marco Polo effect really only works when the Occidental character is, well, Marco Polo. So, with that all in mind, this week’s question is (obviously):
In this day and age, is the presence of a globally well-known star still the (potential) guarantee of box office success that Oriental movie makers seem to think it is, or are they being hired purely because they’re the best actor for the role?