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The Great Wall
China/USA - 1986
Directed by Peter Wang


This film is really an American film that was made in China.  Director, Peter Wang, plays the role of Leo Fang, a middle-class computer programmer who has lived in the United States since he was 10 years old.  Leo decides to take his Chinese-American wife and teenage son to visit his sister in Peking. Their arrival is eagerly anticipated by the sister, who's husband is a retired party official and who's teenage daughter is preparing for the intense college entrance exam that China is famous for.  The opportunities for cultural comparisons are obvious. 

Mr. Chao, Fang's brother-in-law, is shocked at the disrespectful attitude displayed by Paul Fang, the teenage son, toward his father.  He finds Leo entirely too permissive.   Paul, on the other hand, can't believe that Lili (the Chaos' teenage daughter) stands the scrutiny of her parents, her mother even opens her mail.

Lili is so interested in spending time with her American cousin that she procrastinates her studies. She then resorts to locking herself in her room to study, where she is found, collapsed from exhaustion, on the day of the exam.  She is being taken to the hospital by ambulance as the exam begins. 

The film is an engrossing story about family and culture and the ties that bind.   The location footage is fascinating to watch as street scenes roll by.  They do, in fact, visit the Great Wall itself.

Runtime:  97 minutes

 


Guest Comments

From: "Nick Chapman"  n.chapman@hotbot.com

"I don't think it is accurate to describe this as an American film made in China. What it is is an important Asian-American film some of which was shot in China, with a significant level of cooperation with Chinese filmmakers. Indeed, I believe it was listed as a co-production of America and China, and was one of the first films to have a significant portion shot in China since the Revolution, or at least the Cultural Revolution.
But despite the portion set in China, it is still essentially an Asian-American film - that is, a film made principally by Asian-Americans which addresses issue of Asian-American identity. It can't compare with the first breakthrough Asian-American film, Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing, which is still probably the best film on Asian-American identity. But it is an enjoyable comedy with a message that isn't hammered home to brutally (though the amateur actors in a couple of roles make the it seem a bit heavy-handed at times).
Although I think it is principally an Asian-American film, it is also an American-Asian film, in that it explores the influence of American culture on Chinese youth. The most obvious ways this occurs is in one of the earliest scenes set in China, when the two school buddies discuss Coke. I think that was put upfront to signal very heavily this aspect of the film. Another important moment for this aspect of GREAT WALL is the hilarious scene when the Chinese boy tries to impress a girl by (mis)reciting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (I may actually be wrong about it being that speech, but it was some really famous piece of American political rhetoric, of that I'm sure).
Don't be put off by the academic quality of these remarks, or by the somewhat slow beginning of the film. It really picks up when the family gets to China, and is an enjoyable social comedy well-worth renting."
 

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