Say what you will about Matt Damon's controversial new film The Great Wall, but the epic fantasy flick is absolutely loaded with both action and intrigue. There's monsters, explosions and drama aplenty, and viewers might just learn a bit about China's history along the way.
Of course, #TheGreatWall is massively dramatized for the sake of entertainment— after all, it's a movie about monsters attacking the Great Wall of China. But there's more than a little truth behind its fictional narrative.
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Is 'The Great Wall' Based On A True Story?
Considering its historical roots, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. So just how much of The Great Wall is historically accurate, and how much is pure imagination? Let's take a look:
1. The Song Dynasty
Both the historical period and the Chinese leader featured in the story were taken straight from the history books. The Song Dynasty was the era between the years 960 and 1279. Emporer Renzong ruled China for 41 years of that time, and was very focused on the nation's military power; a fact that obviously had a heavy influence on the film's narrative.
As such, the Song Dynasty was known for its focus on military operations, especially the utilization of new weaponry. The Song Dynasty also marked the first time a magnetized compass was used to determine true North— something you may find a sneaky reference to when watching The Great Wall.
2. Black Powder
In The Great Wall, Matt Damon's character is in search of a substance he calls "black powder". This isn't a mystical substance, but common gun powder. In fact, gunpowder was invented in China during the Song Dynasty, with most of their weaponry being fueled by the ammunition— as you can see from all those insane explosions during the movie's most intense battle scenes.
3. Magic Stone
The magnetic stone Matt Damon finds early in the film may seem like a magic tool to defeat the hordes of monsters threatening to consume them all, but it's also a reference to a Song Dynasty invention. Lodestones, which contain magnetite, were used to make compasses, one of the defining technological feats from that historical era.
4. Hot Air Balloons
Did the ancient Chinese military really travel through the sky in hot air balloons like in The Great Wall? Well, not quite. While air travel hadn't yet been mastered, unmanned hot air balloons were often sent over the battlefield to distract the enemy. These were military sky lanterns, and were regarded as an important part of military strategy long before they were appropriated as a festival attraction.
5. Elite Army
They may not have fought off armies of monsters, but the Chinese military most definitely had an impressive battalion guarding the wall. The Imperial Army of the Song Dynasty was controlled by three distinct marshals, which is quite reminiscent of the soldiers shown in the above scene from The Great Wall. At one point, they commanded an incredible one million soldiers against various threatening forces.
6. Female Warriors
Conservatives may get up in arms about the inclusion of women in a war movie set in ancient China, but the female warriors in The Great Wall are actually a nod to the real-life warring women from China's past. China's history contains many accomplished female warriors in both history and legend, the most recognizable being Hua Mulan— yes, the same Mulan the Disney film is based on.
7. The Taotie
Perhaps most surprising of all is the true story behind The Great Wall's green monsters, the Taotie. Depictions of the Taotie have been found on various relics and vessels, often shown as an animal-like face with bulging eyes.
There's a fair amount of mystery surrounding these strange creatures, but they're thought to be a sort of mythical creature. Much like in the film, they were a ravenous bunch and were even known to eat people. In fact, these savage beasts became notorious for their gluttonous appetites.
There may be no tangible evidence the Taotie really existed, but to the people of ancient China, they were very real indeed.
Are you looking forward to watching The Great Wall?