“Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” Zhang told EW. “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. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese.”
“I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision,” he wrote.
The film, from Legendary and Universal, is set on the Great Wall of China as a group of elite warriors band together to keep out and defeat mythical creatures. But people were still surprised and disappointed that the film, set about 1,000 years ago, starred a white American actor.
In a lengthy tweet, “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu wrote the film is “perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world” adding, “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”
Zhang further advocated for the film stating “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.”
The film will also star Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe alongside Chinese stars including Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu and Eddie Peng. It is the first movie to emerge from Legendary Entertainment’s Legendary East operation and it is also the first English-language film for Zhang with a $135 million budget.
“The Great Wall” is set to open in theaters Feb. 17, 2017.