‘Great Wall’ Producer on What Hollywood and China Can Teach Each Other
The continuing courtship between Hollywood and China reached a new milestone last Friday with the release in China of “The Great Wall,” the much buzzed-about movie directed by Zhang Yimou and backed by Legendary Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Le Vision Pictures and China Film Group. With a budget of more than $150 million, the blockbuster epic, which features Matt Damon and Andy Lau fighting monsters on the iconic Great Wall, is the biggest co-production to date for the United States and China and probably the most expensive movie ever shot exclusively in China.
随着影片《长城》上周五在中国上映，好莱坞和中国之间的持续示好达到一个新的里程碑。这部由张艺谋导演的备受关注的影片，由传奇影业(Legendary Entertainment)、环球影业(Universal Pictures)、乐视影业和中国电影集团联合出品。这部史诗巨片预算超1.5亿美元，是迄今为止规模最大的中美合拍片，或许也是完全在中国取景的最贵的影片，其中有马特·达蒙(Matt Damon)和刘德华在标志性的长城上大战怪兽的场景。
Along with those attributes come high expectations. Many are looking to see whether the film can help Hollywood further penetrate the fast-growing Chinese film market while fulfilling China’s longstanding ambition to make a global cinematic hit. If it succeeds, industry analysts say this type of big-budget, cross-cultural movie could be a model for future co-productions between China and the United States, the world’s top two film markets.
That will not become clear until after Feb. 17, when the film is released in the United States. In an interview, Peter Loehr, chief executive of Legendary East, the China subsidiary of Legendary Entertainment, and one of the movie’s producers, discussed what Hollywood and China could learn from each other and why he rejected accusations of the film’s “whitewashing” in the casting of Mr. Damon.
这些问题要得到答案，还得等到影片于2月17日在美国上映之后。在下面的采访中，这部影片的制片人之一、传奇影业中国子公司传奇东方(Legendary East)的首席执行官罗异(Peter Loehr)探讨了好莱坞和中国可以从彼此身上学些什么，以及他为什么反对外界指责这部影片选达蒙主演是在“洗白”。
How did you get involved in making this film?
I got involved about four years ago when I joined Legendary. The movie was about to shoot, and we were looking at the budget and the story. The story seemed pretty cliché and not exactly what we wanted to do, and we weren’t able to hit a budget number that we wanted to hit. So we hit a pause button, and we started to rework the script. Then we showed it to Zhang Yimou. He was the first and the only person we showed it to.
At one point did it become clear that “The Great Wall” was going to be a kind of test for future big-budget Hollywood-China co-productions?
We didn’t set out to do that. It happened along the way. We thought, there’s been a perfect storm of events that allow us to actually make this movie. The Chinese market is now big enough that we can return a big part of the box office on this movie and we can bring in major Chinese partners at significant investments. Before, Chinese investors would say, “Oh, we’ll put in $5 million.” This time our partners are in for 30 percent of this movie. So we thought, “Maybe we can make a real Chinese story and maybe the world is ready for this in a way they weren’t before. Plus Zhang Yimou is amazing, and great actors and talented people want to work with him. Let’s just go for it.”
After the first trailer came out, there was a lot of backlash from people including Constance Wu of “Fresh Off the Boat,” who criticized the movie as “whitewashing” for casting a white actor — Mr. Damon — as the main hero.
第一支预告片出来后，遭到了很多人的强烈反对，包括出演过《初来乍到》(Fresh Off the Boat)的吴恬敏(Constance Wu)。她指责这部电影让一个白人演员，即达蒙演主角是在“洗白”。
The casting of the movie was entirely organic. This is the way the screenplay was written. It’s not like that role was written as a Chinese person. It’s a plot point that this guy has to show up and do these things. He drives the plot.
It’s interesting that so far, we haven’t really seen any of the same discussions of race in this movie in the Chinese media. It seems to be a very specifically American issue.
With this movie, Zhang Yimou and I set out to defy every stereotype that you can think of. All the roles you constantly see Chinese actors in are not in this movie. There is no mafia guy, there is no triad guy, there is no prostitute. There is none of that. And there’s no stupid, phony, fake love story happening at the edge of the movie as the world is about to end.
I think when people see the movie they’ll think, “Wow, this is a big step in the right direction, and this is a true collaboration between actors in both countries and they at least have equal footing.”
What about the movie do you think will appeal to American moviegoers?
It’s a classic adventure story with a great group of heroes. Certainly there’s never been a movie shot on the Great Wall before, especially one in which you’re fending off monsters. Plus it’s a huge action canvas that works to Zhang Yimou’s strengths. Zhang Yimou was in Los Angeles for postproduction, and he played with the 3-D effects for eight months. So there are things you really haven’t seen before, like smoke coming out of the screen. He took things that he would use in a classic Zhang Yimou art film and melded it into a really commercial format in a really interesting way.
Based on this experience, what do you think American studios need to learn from Chinese studios and vice versa?
In general the U.S. system of everybody being super independent and each department head having their own little fiefdom and only presenting finished work versus the Chinese system where everyone wants to ask the director every single little detail — I think there’s probably a middle ground to be found somewhere there.
What about on the more conceptual level?
I think we need to probably start thinking less about China and how to make a good movie that has Chinese elements. When I worked at C.A.A. [Creative Artists Agency], I saw so many scripts, and everyone had a China idea and said, let’s do a remake of this and a remake of that. At the time, “The Great Wall” was the first project I saw that I thought, “Wow, this makes total sense. That’s a good story. I understand that guy, I actually like that guy, and I understand why the people he meets up with are initially very unwelcoming to him and gradually warm to him as he changes and learns more about himself.”
我觉得我们可能需要开始减少对中国，以及如何制作一部有中国元素的好电影的考虑。在创新艺人经纪公司（Creative Artists Agency，简称CAA）工作的时候，我看到过太多的剧本，人人都有一个和中国有关的想法，说咱们翻拍这个，翻拍那个吧。当时，看到《长城》后我觉得，“哇，这非常有意义。这是个好故事。我理解这个角色，实际上我喜欢这个角色。我理解为什么见到他的人最初非常不欢迎他，但在他改变自己，对自己有了更多的了解后逐渐对他热情起来。”它是我看到后生出这种想法的第一个项目。
How does the movie stand out from past Hollywood-China co-productions?
We feel like this is one of the first true co-productions. It wasn’t coming to China just for finance or for access to the market. It was a story that organically took place here that organically had mixed actors, and it’s something that U.S. studios and Chinese investors sparked to in the same way and invested in accordingly. It’s basically what a co-production is supposed to be. The Chinese side is supposed to be 30 percent, but on a film of this scale, the Chinese side being 30 percent is unheard-of. So it must mean something. They must have really liked it. They must not think it’s whitewashing or pandering or anything like that. So I guess, for me, being able to attract a filmmaker like Zhang Yimou and being able to attract a significant Chinese investment says something about the D.N.A. of this movie.