Chinese director defends casting of Matt Damon in film The Great Wall


Acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou has defended the casting of "white man" Matt Damon in his latest film after criticism from an Asian-American actress.

Matt, best known for the Bourne franchise, will star later this year in the 150 million US dollar (£113 million) Chinese-Hollywood fantasy movie The Great Wall, an English-language movie set in China involving menacing supernatural monsters.

Constance Wu, who stars in a US comedy series about immigrants called Fresh Off The Boat, posted on Twitter last week: "We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that a only (sic) white man can save the world."

Andy Wong/AP/Press Association Images

"Our heroes don't look like Matt Damon," her post read, listing alternatives such as Pakistani schoolgirl turned Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

The Great Wall is the first English-language movie by Zhang Yimou, the director of the romantic Kung Fu drama House Of Flying Daggers, and the opulent opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"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. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry," Zhang said in a statement posted on Entertainment Weekly's website on Thursday.

"Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point," he was quoted as saying.

Zhang added that actors portraying the film's other four "major heroes" are Chinese.

The casting of Matt has not sparked any controversy in China, where producers are increasingly entering into co-productions with American and other movie-makers to improve their film-making techniques, and where the government is pushing for Chinese films to be global hits.

Director Zhang Yimou, right, looks at actor Matt Damon, center, using a mobile phone to take picture of the journalists next to actor Pedro Pascal (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Hollywood has been drawn to China by the country's deep-pocketed financiers and its box office that is now the world's second biggest.

The Great Wall is due to be released in December in China and in early 2017 in other countries, including the United States.