The Washington Post has a surprisingly long article explaining The real reason Matt Damon was brought in to save ancient China.
Despite Damon’s prominent appearance, the nuts and bolts of "The Great Wall" are more Chinese than perhaps any major co-production between the United States and China has been before. Within China, the movie is being hailed as the first of its kind to be made by a major Chinese director, backed by a Chinese-owned Hollywood studio and featuring Chinese historical themes. And if successful, it could mark a step forward for the influence of the Chinese film industry around the world.
Creating a film that captures audiences in both China and the United States has been a Holy Grail for the global film industry — often sought after, and rarely achieved. In part, this is due to the strict requirements for movies in China. To protect its nascent film industry, China limits the number of foreign films that theaters can show each year. But foreign films can gain guaranteed access to China’s lucrative market by applying to be official U.S.-China co-productions, in which Chinese and American entities work together to create a film. The sought-after designation means the film will be shown in Chinese movie theaters, and it gives American studios a larger share of the box office take. But in return, the film must typically feature Chinese actors, be at least partially shot in China, and follow China’s strict restrictions on content, including censoring any material that portrays the Chinese government, police or army in a negative light.
But the Chinese and Hollywood studios backing “The Great Wall” are hoping that their formula will finally crack the code. The film, backed by Universal Pictures and others, features a large cast of famous Chinese actors, including megastar Andy Lau, actress Jing Tian and boy-band heartthrob Wang Junkai. It is directed by Zhang Yimou, perhaps China’s most famous filmmaker. It prominently features an aspect of China that is also known around the world: the Great Wall. And it is being produced by Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood studio that was acquired by the Chinese company Dalian Wanda earlier this year, the first time a major American production company has come under Chinese control.
Director Zhang Yimou spoke out to defend “The Great Wall” against charges of whitewashing late last week. "In many ways 'The Great Wall' is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience." He added, "Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.”