Production has begun on “The Great Wall,” Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s first English-language film. The movie is also the first for Legendary East, the ambitious Chinese offshoot of Hollywood super-producer Legendary Entertainment.

The film stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe alongside Chinese stars including Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu and Eddie Peng. Jing Tian is set as the female lead. Production started March 30 and will run till July.

Legendary describes the story as “an elite force making a last stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure.” Locations include the China Film Group Studios at Huairou, near Beijing, and the coastal city of Qingdao.

A top notch crew includes cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (“The Piano,” “Once Were Warriors,” “Boardwalk Empire,”); costume designer Mayes Rubeo (“Avatar,” “Apocalypto”); production designer John Myhre (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Nine”); VFX supervisor Phil Brennan (“Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Wolverine”); and film editor Craig Wood (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Rango”).

Legendary East was hatched specifically to seat Legendary Entertainment’s brand of intelligent, high-concept productions in China, the world’s second largest and fastest growing theatrical film market. Over time it aims to establish a core of Chinese technical and creative expertise that has the experience and exposure of making Hollywood-scale movies for global audiences.

The ambitious concept nearly came unstuck, in late 2012, when a Hong Kong property development company investor pulled out at the last minute. Since then, the unit was quietly put back on its feet with the hiring of Peter Loehr, former CAA boss in China, and a core of long-term investors. An early deal set China Film Group as a partner. And as Legendary switched its studio releasing partner from Warner Bros. to Universal, Legendary East became a key partner for Universal in the fast-changing China market.

“The Great Wall,” developed from an idea hatched by Legendary boss Thomas Tull, is a Legendary Entertainment and Atlas Entertainment Production. Production is by Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni, and Loehr. Partnering with Legendary are Universal Pictures, China Film Co. and Le Vision Pictures.

The large Chinese cast, Chinese locations, and Chinese equity participation mean that it can be structured as an official Chinese co-production. That means it will escape import quotas and count as a local film in China, earning a higher proportion of gross revenues.

The film is further increasing its potential in the Middle Kingdom by releasing in 3D. It will be released globally by Universal Pictures on Friday, Nov. 23, 2016. The China release, handled by Le Vision Pictures and China Film, is set for the lucrative December 2016 holiday season.