I remember being thoroughly captivated by the House of Flying Daggers, so any film from Zhang Yimou I (wrongly) assumed would have me the same way.
The Great Wall, in fact, leaves you wanting to bang your head.
I guess the pressure got to him, this movie being heralded as the first in a new era of artistic collaboration between Hollywood and China, as the East, amongst other things, becomes a dominant force at the global box office.
And you can certainly see where the money has been spent – on CGI giant green man-eating lizards and Matt Damon’s hair extensions and beard oil. Him so hirsute was a distraction to say the least.
Damon stars as a rogue medieval Irish mercenary who finds himself in Song Dynasty China on a quest to find gunpowder, the fabled substance that turns air into fire. His search finds him, somewhat puzzlingly, in the middle of a vast, uninhabited desert where one night he and his travelling companion Tovar (Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal) get attacked by a big angry beasty.
Damon kills it and its body tumbles down a hitherto-unseen bottomless pit, but not before he manages to lop off a paw, which a local soldier identifies as belonging to a Tao-Tie – a flesh-munching monster, millions of which live inside a nearby crashed meteor crater.
Every 60 years, they emerge en masse and lay siege to the Great Wall of China, in the hope of reaching the nearby ancient capital of Bianliang and feasting on the residents.
As luck would have it, it is coming up for Tao Tie tea-time and soon enough Damon and Tovar get to witness an attack first-hand.
Cue some fancy archery and mixed martial arts capers; however, it falls short of the elegant, swirling combat scenes I was expecting.
Damon (or his stunt double) proves to be quite handy with a bow and arrow and a bowl (cute trick), but the biggest round of applause comes when he has a shower and a shave and emerges looking like, um, Matt Damon once more.
For me, this bilingual fantasy effort is a wall-to-wall fiasco.
Next up, Daphne. I saw this advertised at one of those little arthouse cinemas and decided to try something a little different, a little challenging. And it is certainly both of those things.
Much further into the film, someone who has crash-landed into Daphne’s world offers their pity and after translation, likens her to a skinny little kitten which the village continues to kick away.
This movie is a character study of a woman in her early thirties living alone in London. She is frustrated by her university friends, emotionally-exhausted by her mother and little more than functioning in a stressful restaurant chef job.
She finds it hard to care about anything. So she doesn’t. And that includes herself. She tells a therapist she has not felt alive for such a long time and therefore simply cannot remember the sensation.
We watch and track – as CCTV cameras would – from above as she teeters with a skinful across the city during the day. We are voyeurs as she goes back to the digs of a lecturer and numbly lets him empty his load into her. Although inappropriate, her sat astride a ghost bike speaks loudly about her situation.
Her kavorka is powerful, an unbridled lure to the male of the species, much to her disdain. She gives a lesson in love to one during a first date under duress: ‘You project your own ideas of what it should be onto someone else and end up nothing but disappointed’ she exclaims as she mimics scrolling through an online dating site and further hollers: ‘Yuck, yuck, yuck, fuck’. She is cold and detached and yet lively and intriguing.
She a smart cookie with an entitled upbringing. Daphne chuckles as she reads philosopher Zizek for fun while scoffing poppadums on the sofa – her favourite night in. She avoids people as best she can as she has largely given up on them.
We spend a lot of time with her – as she tries out recipes in her kitchen, which invariably end up in the bin, as she ignores her phone, as she talks to herself in the bathroom mirror, as she throws caustic comments at her cancer-battling mother, as she confides in a stranger on the bus, as she downs the vodka and Red Bull, as she tells a counsellor she would just like to sit quietly rather than talk, as she snorts cocaine and chain smokes and then tries a jogging regime, as she revels in tasting a new cheese, as she rocks the batwing jumpers and as she sees someone being stabbed. And it is the subtle and not so subtle effect of this moment in time that turns the tide for her in her life going nowhere.
Actress Emily Beecham plays a really good part – an emo sibling of Bridget Jones if you will. We are so used to a diet of idealised leading ladies and therefore less sickly-sweet, more realistic and complex versions appear mean and jar at the senses. But she is a heroine of sorts, if nothing more than having survived this 21st century world of ours thus far with all its confusing messages.