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  Great Wall, A The China Syndrome
Year: 1986
Director: Peter Wang
Stars: Peter Wang, Sharon Iwai, Kelvin Han Yee, Li Qinqin, Hu Xiaoguang, Shen Guanglan, Kelvin Wong, Jan Haley, Janette Pavini, Tan Han, Xiu Jian, Zhijuan Ran
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Leo Fang (Peter Wang) moved from Beijing to California when he was ten years old, and since then, thirty years ago, he has not been back, though he has family there: his sister (Shen Guanglan), who married an older man, Mr Chao (Hu Xiaoguang) and had a now-teenage daughter, Lili (Li Qinqin) Leo has never met. Leo has family of his own now, of course, he married Grace (Sharon Iwai) and they have brought up their son Paul (Kelvin Han Yee) to be respectful of their Chinese heritage, though really he is an All-American Boy through and through. At Leo's job as a computer programmer, he was fully expecting to get a promotion, so when he is passed over for some underqualified white guy to take the post, he is furious. Now, perhaps, is the time to return to the old country...

But only for a holiday, you understand, for what can be summed up pretty comprehensively as a culture clash comedy, no more, no less. It was the brainchild of Peter Wang, who after getting a role in Wayne Wang's breakout Asian-American movie Chan is Missing, decided he could have a go at this directing lark himself, and set up A Great Wall (sometimes known more longwindedly as A Great Wall is a Great Wall). This was notable for being the first American film to be shot in China, as Wang was able to get permission to make most of the movie there with his American cast mixing with the Chinese one much as they did in the plot, though some liberties had to be taken with the actual conditions in the nation, which were not quite as free and easy as depicted.

Indeed, the politics were not touched upon, it was interpersonal relationships Wang was more keen to focus on, though presumably if he had brought up the Cold War or Communism his permissions would have been cancelled in a flash. But that was not necessarily a drawback, for you just had to switch on the news to hear about that sort of subject in the eighties, and this had a remit to humanise the East-West relations with a dose of gentle humour at the expense of the expectations each of the two communities had about each other. Mr Chao, for instance, is convinced everyone in the United States has an STD, and the streets are full of homosexuals, which is supposed to be amusing, but sounds at best, weird. A Great Wall was not the most hilarious movie you would ever see, it had to be said, for an ostensible comedy.

But if it was not a thorough, out and out kneeslapper, it did have strengths in other areas. The characters were warmly portrayed, and it was nice to witness them get along fine despite their differences, Paul especially being treated like some kind of alien for being such an American abroad, and set up to play a climactic game of ping-pong against Lili's slightly estranged boyfriend. He was Liu Yida (Kelvin Wong, who went on to be a villainous fixture of Hong Kong movies), and we actually concentrated on his story fairly extensively too, rendering this an ensemble piece. Here he was a typical Chinese teenager, obsessed with exams and bemused by American culture as opposed to his own. If there was a major flaw here, it was that once you got the idea it was all about those differences, it did not have very much more to say, a one-joke film, if you like, so perhaps it could have done with a little light politics to set it off a degree further. As for Wang, he went on to make a couple more projects, then disappeared from the scene, a pity, since he had an interesting perspective we could have done with more of. Music by Ganru Ge and David Liang.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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