Legendary Pictures, the studio behind “Godzilla” and “The Dark Knight,” has signed Chinese director Zhang Yimou to direct its fantasy epic, “Great Wall.” The auteur director will film “Great Wall” as an English-language co-production of Legendary and China Film Co., setting up the film to be a truly international blockbuster.
The brainchild of Legendary CEO Thomas Tull and “World War Z” author Max Brooks, “Great Wall” follows two 15th century English soldiers caught up in a supernatural mystery behind the construction of the Great Wall of China. “Great Wall” has been in pre-production for years, first planned as the debut film from Legendary East, a joint Legendary-China Film venture. Originally, “The Last Samurai” director Edward Zwick was attached to direct with “Man of Steel” star Henry Cavill in the lead role, but production stalled and Zwick departed the project in late 2012, according to a Deadline article from the time.
The project sat dormant for years until Zhang announced that he would helm a new take on “Great Wall” during a presentation at the Beijing Film Academy on Tuesday. He was joined onstage by “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards, in Beijing to promote his blockbuster monster film, which is set for release in China on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to it. The company and I have been preparing for ‘Great Wall’ for a long time. It is an action blockbuster,” Zhang said, according to a translation from the Hollywood Reporter.
“The story is very important, and I have to do a lot of preparation for the various cultural elements in the film. Then comes the visual effects and action, which I like a lot. ... And, very importantly, it has Chinese elements in it,” Zhang continued. “The Chinese elements are leading elements in the film. This is the first time I’ve done this kind of co-production. It’s good for the promotion of Chinese culture. It has historical value for both parties.”
Zhang is one of China’s most respected filmmakers, and while he is best known for his 2004 martial arts feature “House of Red Daggers,” Zhang got his start as a rebel filmmaker in his own country. After his 1987 debut “Red Sorghum,” Zhang embarked on a number of personal dramas that were banned by the Chinese government for their political content, including 1990’s “Ju Dou,” the first Chinese film ever to receive a nomination for an Academy Award.
Over the years, Chinese censors have gradually softened on Zhang, and he was ultimately selected to direct the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Zhang’s latest is the 2014 drama “Coming Home,” which depicts a family separated in the upheaval of China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. It has grossed more than $48 million in China since its release in May.
One of Zhang’s biggest challenges in making the film won’t be name recognition in the West, considering that Legendary already turned the unknown Edwards into a blockbuster director with “Godzilla.” Instead, Zhang might face some difficulties directing an English-language film without knowing the language. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Zhang noted that he can’t speak the language despite filming 2011’s “The Flowers of War” partially in English. Still, given Legendary’s commitment to the director, Zhang will likely receive plenty of help in overcoming the language barrier. Or at least a good translator.