The Great Wall—Why Was it Really Built?

Matt Damon as the mercenary William, meets up with a demon and The Nameless Order epic action fantasy. Photo courtesy of

Matt Damon as the mercenary William, meets up with a demon and The Nameless Order epic action fantasy.

According to writers, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy the Great Wall was built to keep out monsters; big, bad, soul-less monsters that resemble gigantic prehistoric reptiles who swarm the wall every 60 years to kill and bring the dead bodies back to their queen to eat. Apparently, her royal majesty has a ravenous appetite. 

When the film opens, we meet William (Matt Damon) a mercenary in China during the Song dynasty. He and his crew, consisting of twenty men, are searching for black powder to bring back to Europe and sell for major bucks. 

Unfortunately, things aren’t going smoothly for the group. They are pursued by Khitan bandits, who wind up killing everyone except William, his sidekick, Tovar (Pedro Pascal) and two others. 

The four men seek refuge in a nearby cave but are soon attacked by an invisible monster. Even though they didn’t see it, they know it’s a monster because Tovar slashed off the creature’s arm and it did not belong to a human. 

Only William and Tovar survive and next day, with the creature’s arm in hand, they head out and stumble upon The Great Wall. Before they can take in the beautiful scenery, they are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers who belong to a secretive military sect called The Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) 

When William shows the General the arm, he tells them that it belongs to the Taotie which they believe were originally sent from the gods to punish the Emperor for abusing his authority way back when. 

The Order has been training for the last sixty years in preparation for the Taotie’s return and now the time has come. Luckily, the General’s second in command is a beautiful Chinese woman named Lin Mae (Tian Jing) who speaks perfect English, thanks to a man named Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe) whom they captured some 25 years ago. Otherwise, William and Tovar wouldn’t have a clue to what is going on.

The Great Wall, brilliantly directed by Yimou Zhang (House of the Flying Daggers), is an epic action fantasy with amazing special effects, dazzling visuals, incredible stunts, breathtaking battle scenes and fantastic set pieces. But it’s also a film about people from two different worlds coming together to fight a common enemy and in turn, they come to understand and respect one another.  

I saw The Great Wall, which opened in theaters February 17, in 3D and I recommend you do the same. I absolutely love this film.


Brooklyn-born Joan Alperin was an actress in New York City, traveled extensively, and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. At a party, someone mentioned L. A., specifically Topanga Canyon. For 20 years later, she has resided, with her two Japanese Chins, a Pekingese and an amazing cat, in the town she fell in love with. She continues to act, reviews plays and films and writes screenplays.


Reviewed by Joan Alperin


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