Zhang Yimou Reveals Details of Legendary's China Co-Production 'Great Wall'

Zhang Yimou
Joe Pugliese

The Chinese auteur confirms he will take on the project, a personal favorite of Legendary CEO Thomas Tull, who conceived it with "World War Z" writer Max Brooks.

Zhang Yimou, who made classics such as House of Flying Daggers and Raise the Red Lantern, will direct Great Wall, a fantasy epic about the mysterious reasons why the Great Wall of China was built.

The project, which is set in the 15th century, came close to being made in 2012 with Ed Zwick at the helm before scheduling and creative issues forced a rethink. Finding a Hollywood-China co-production that works in China and internationally has become a driving interest for many studios, and Legendary has been particularly focused on trying to track down the breakout film.

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“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 told an audience of film students at Beijing Film Academy. He was giving a talk with Godzilla director Gareth Edwards, who was in town to promote his monster movie ahead of its China bow on June 13.

“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. It’s very different from my last film,” Zhang said.

Zhang is a major figure in China, long banned for his early work such as Red Sorghum and To Live, then feted for his work on martial arts epics Hero and House of Flying Daggers. He also choreographed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Zhang’s recent movie Coming Home is a small film about damaged lives during the Cultural Revolution, a period of political upheaval in China in the 1960s and 1970s. It has taken more than $40 million here.

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“The reason I took the Great Wall project is that there have been requests in the last 10 or 20 years. Now the production is big enough and really appealing. And, very importantly, it has Chinese elements in it,” Zhang said. “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.”

There were no details on budgets, locations or expected box office.

In February, Zhang came on board to direct The Parsifal Mosaic, Universal's adaptation of the 1982 Robert Ludlum novel. Zhang is repped by CAA.

Legendary East is said to be renewing its focus on China, and one of the movies could be a Chinese-flavored sequel to Godzilla, if a hint by Edwards is to be believed.

Edwards joked that Godzilla was angry at references on social media to his being overweight, and that he would not come back for a sequel unless people stopped saying he was fat.  If Godzilla was a success in China, he said, they would see about a sequel here.