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Zhang Yimou says 'Great Wall' story may have been too weak

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/10/2017 By LOUISE WATT, Associated Press
FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, movie director Zhang Yimou, center, arrives at a red carpet event for the movie "The Great Wall" at a hotel in Beijing. During an interview on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Zhang says the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, "The Great Wall," may have been down to a weak story. Nevertheless, Zhang called the fantasy epic a "first step" in such collaborations and hoped filmmakers wouldn't be put off. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, movie director Zhang Yimou, center, arrives at a red carpet event for the movie "The Great Wall" at a hotel in Beijing. During an interview on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Zhang says the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, "The Great Wall," may have been down to a weak story. Nevertheless, Zhang called the fantasy epic a "first step" in such collaborations and hoped filmmakers wouldn't be put off. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

BEIJING (AP) — Zhang Yimou says the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, "The Great Wall," may have been down to a weak story, but he hopes other filmmakers won't be put off from attempting such ambitious Hollywood-Chinese collaboration.

FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, actors from right, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Matt Damon, movie director Zhang Yimou and actress Jing Tian pose for a selfie on stage upon arrival for a news conference for the movie "The Great Wall" at a hotel in Beijing. During an interview on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Zhang said the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, "The Great Wall," may have been down to a weak story. Nevertheless, Zhang called the fantasy epic a "first step" in such collaborations and hoped filmmakers wouldn't be put off. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo, actors from right, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Matt Damon, movie director Zhang Yimou and actress Jing Tian pose for a selfie on stage upon arrival for a news conference for the movie "The Great Wall" at a hotel in Beijing. During an interview on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Zhang said the disappointing U.S. performance of the biggest budget China-U.S. co-production to date, "The Great Wall," may have been down to a weak story. Nevertheless, Zhang called the fantasy epic a "first step" in such collaborations and hoped filmmakers wouldn't be put off. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

"The actors are all very good; (star) Matt Damon and everyone was splendid," the acclaimed director told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Probably the story is a bit weak, or the timing of it wasn't right, or we didn't do a very good job in making the film. There could be many reasons."

The script for the 3-D adventure fantasy that has Damon and Chinese warriors fighting monsters with China's iconic Great Wall as protection took Hollywood seven years to develop. Zhang added elements of Chinese culture and his opulent visual style, seen in the romantic kung fu drama "House of Flying Daggers" and the 2008 Beijing Olympics ceremonies.

Producers had hoped the $150 million movie could buck the trend of China-U.S. co-productions failing in both markets, as filmmakers on both sides wrestle with how to appeal to Chinese and Western audiences simultaneously.

"The Great Wall" has pulled in a disappointing $45 million in the U.S. since its February release, though it has earned $332 million globally. In China, where it was released in December, it pulled in $171 million, making it the eighth-highest earner in the country last year.

The movie was made by Legendary East, the Chinese arm of Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood studio now owned by Chinese real estate and theater chain developer Wanda Group. Other companies behind the movie include the state-owned China Film Group Corp.; Le Vision Pictures, a private film company affiliated with Chinese tech firm LeEco; and Hollywood's Universal Pictures.

Zhang said "The Great Wall" marked a milestone in the collaboration of Chinese and Hollywood producers.

"As the Chinese saying goes, 'all beginnings are hard.' I feel that this beginning is valuable. I hope that there will be more cooperation like this, that people won't stop just because the result wasn't so good," Zhang said.

Pressed on whether he would attempt a Chinese-Hollywood co-production again, the director said: "It doesn't have to be me. I hope more people will collaborate this."

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Follow Louise Watt on Twitter at twitter.com/louise_watt

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