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Film / The Great Wall

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The Great Wall has stood for centuries as one of mankind's most enduring wonders.

It spans over 9000 km and took more than 1700 years to build.

It protected from many dangers. Some are known. Some are legend.

This is one of the legends.

The Great Wall (長城, Cháng Chéng) is a 2016 epic Historical Fantasy action movie directed by Zhang Yimou featuring Matt Damon as William, Pedro Pascal as Tovar, Jing Tian as Commander Lin Mei, Andy Lau as Strategist Wang and Willem Dafoe as Sir Ballard. It was released in China in December 15th, 2016, and was released in the United States on February 17, 2017.

During the Song Dynasty (sometime in the 11th century), European mercenaries William, his friend Tovar and other sellswords are traveling to China in search of the Chinese's revolutionary secret weapon: black powder, a substance said to transform into fire with great force and able to kill ten men in one blast. On their way, their group is decimated by the hill tribes and then a mysterious beast which William and Tovar fortunately manage to slay. The two remaining mercenaries then stumble upon the Great Wall, a massive fortification running along the mountains and guarded by a huge army. Taken prisoner, William and Tovar meet the commanders guarding the wall, among them Lin Mei of the all-female Crane Troops, the only commander able to speak English, and learn that the beast they killed, a Tao Tei, is a mere scout for the great swarm of Tao Tei which scourge the North of China and threaten its capital. As the Great Wall is the capital's only meaningful defense, it is up to the commanders to repel the beasts. For his part, William begins to warm up to the army and cannot stay neutral as they fight, but Tovar is here to remind him that they came to seek black powder, which the army has aplenty.

The film is notable for being the first major movie made by Chinese companies in collaboration with American companies and personalities and deliberately aimed at an international market, thus why it features a Westerner as the protagonist and was shot in (mostly) English.

The Great Wall provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Wall has built-in blade traps to kill Tao Tei attempting to mount it. They cut through the ridiculously sturdy monsters like a hot knife through butter.
  • Adaptational Badass: The Great Wall of China itself is this. In the movie it is presented as a sophisticated fortification manned by many soldiers, and comprises many war machines, traps and hidden passages, not to mention it is many times bigger (both height and width) than in real life.
  • An Aesop: We should contribute to something greater than ourselves rather than being blinded by individual greed.
  • Alien Blood: The Tao Tei bleed green blood.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Aliens in the northern border of China.
  • Alien Invasion: The Tao Tei came with a comet. Their presence could be seen as this, but Chinese legend interprets them as retribution from the gods to the same greedy Emperor who built the wall.
  • Alternate Landmark History: The Great Wall was built and used to repel an invasion of alien monsters, unbeknownst to the world outside China.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Crane Troop is composed entirely of women because their role is to jump down the Wall attached to a rope to fight the Tao Tei. A man is heavier and thus would have more difficulty being reeled up by the engineers. This is lampshaded by one of them when Lin offers to let William try it during a lull in the fighting.
  • Anachronism Stew: While this movie is obviously historic fantasy fiction, the fact still remains that the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD) had almost nothing to do with the Great Wall. Never mind that the wall is located in Northern China, in territories controlled by the Liao (907 – 1125 AD), and later Jin (1115 – 1234) Dynasties. The wall as we know it today was reconstructed and renovated under the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD).
  • And Starring: "and Andy Lau".
  • Animal Motifs: The Nameless Order consists of several military branches that are named after animals, like Crane Troops, Eagle Troops and so on. Their armor designs reflect these motifs, most notably the respective commanders' helmets.
  • Annoying Arrows: Played completely straight. Being peppered with a dozen or more heavy arrows doesn't even slow a Tao Tei down, least of all weaken it. Only those hit by one of the huge barbed harpoons are affected, and then more from being bound by the chain attached limiting their movement. Only a clean hit in the eye can do them in.
  • An Arm and a Leg: William hacking off a Tao Tei's clawed arm without even knowing what he just fought there soon turns into an important plot point. Apart from that, we have several people being torn limb from limb by Tao Tei.
  • Arrow Cam: Done several times to spectacular effect.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Probably justified due to their alien nature, as well as their inspiration from Asian mythology, but the Tao Tei's shoulder-mounted eyes are very counterintuitive for a predator. In Real Life, most carnivores have eyes close together and facing forward, to have better binocular vision to aid in hunting prey.
  • Astronomic Zoom: The first shot of the film is a zoom in on the great wall... from outer space.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The Tao Tei's sole weakness is their eyes, something the Wall's defenders are well aware of and do everything they can to exploit.
  • Audible Sharpness: Strangely, the Tao Tei queen's guards when they open their frills.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The Crane Troops' combat style. As one Chinese netizen put it: "lunch delivery." Bungee jumping off the wall to get in a few quick stabs with a spear before being torn to pieces seems insanely wasteful, and defeats the purpose of having a massive wall in the first place. Damn if it doesn't look cool, though.
    • Playing massive drums using nunchucks. Looks awesome. Would it work in real life? No.
  • Badass Army: The Nameless Order, the Chinese army guarding the Great Wall. They are a well-drilled formation numbering in the tens of thousands and though a Tao Tei is mightier than ten men, superior discipline and training (not to mention that huge wall giving them the advantage of the terrain) allowed the Order to successfully repel the Tao Tei every sixty years for millennia.
  • Badass Cape: Every soldier of the Nameless Order, even the lowliest footslogger, wears one. It only gets more badass from there.
  • Badass Normal: None of the characters have any extraordinary attributes besides courage and determination. The closest example is William's archery, but even that is implied to just be a fundamental difference in his skillset versus the Chinese (he specializes in single-target shots, while they have to use massed techniques to deal with the Tao Tei horde).
  • Bash Brothers: William and Tovar fight together so well they can kill a Tao Tei better than a dozen soldiers.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Lin looks absolutely great from her introduction scene until the credits roll. Her repeated bungee jumps into hordes of slavering monsters don't even manage to dishevel her stylish hairdo, least of all net her a scratch. The same is true for her soldiers (those that don't get eaten, that is). Lin does get a tiny bit of dirt on her face during the climax, but that's about it.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The nameless rookie soldier that William saves early on (and encourages) later offers up crucial testimony to save William's life, and performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save William, Lin and Wang during the final battle.
  • Behind the Black: Is it amazing how close William and Tovar get to the wall before noticing it. Despite the reverse angle making it clear there was nothing obstructing their line of sight of it they get within about a stone's throw of the gate before The Nameless Legion's *Twang* Hello.
  • Big Bad: Tao Tei Queen.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Happens twice during the film.
    • The first time, Tovar jumps to rescue William who is fighting the Tao Tei in the fog.
    • The second time, William rescues Lin as she's about to be devoured by several Tao Tei.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The basic Tao Tei looks like an oversized green dog mutant, but what really makes them look strange is that their eyes are on the shoulders instead of their face. The Tao Tei queen has a head frill that she uses like an antenna to communicate orders to her whole army, and her "guard" have much larger frills that they can extend in a circle, which they use to protect the queen.
  • Blade Reflection: Put to practical use during the night ambush on the wall. As their troops face the Tao Tei approaching from the front, General Shao and Commander Lin spot the one flanking them from behind in their blades' reflections.
  • Bling of War: The Chinese Army wears highly ornate and brightly colored armors meant to represent various animals that also reflect in their names, like the Crane Troops for instance.
  • Breast Plate: The Crane Troops chest armor looks rather snug-fitting.
  • Butt-Monkey: That one individual Tao Tei who over the course of the movie is shot in the ass with a drugged spear, caged and taken to the palace, paralyzed by a magnet, baited with explosives, thrown around by the Queen's guards, and ultimately is struck by General Lin's spear and blows up along with the Queen. You almost feel bad for the poor guy.
  • Character Development: William goes from an amoral mercenary out to steal the secret of Chinese black powder, to someone fighting for something bigger than himself who even puts his comrade's well-being over his own personal gain.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: A decidedly unflattering example in the Chinese emperor, who's a spoiled, cowardly brat of a teenager.
  • Child Soldier: William was sold to a mercenary band at a young age, and Lin was recruited at 5.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Chinese may only see their black powder as a chemical concoction, but Sir Ballard presents it as "transmutation of the elements". It should be noted that both "chemistry" and "alchemy" derive from the Arabic "al-kimiya" and were initially understood as the same area of study (Newton, for instance, was an early scientist but also an alchemist), and that the formula for gunpowder was likely accidentally discovered by Chinese alchemists, so it makes sense for people of this era to see chemistry and alchemy as linked.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: An In-Universe example noted by Tovar. Each specialized branch of the Nameless Order wears vibrantly colored armor. Blue is for Crane Troops, red for Eagle Troops, black for close-quarter Bear Troops, bronze for the Tiger Troops (artillery engineers), and magenta for the Deer Troops (who act as mobile infantry). Generals Zhao (and Lin) wear dark silver. Tao Teis are symbolized with a sickly green instead.
  • Costume Porn: Par for the course for a movie set in ancient China and made with heavy Chinese influence. Every single soldier defending the wall wears beautifully crafted, insanely ornate armor in vibrant colors, and with a cape to boot. Everyone. Even the emperor's gorgeous golden robe pales in comparison to that.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Nameless Order are equipped with many weapons and miscellaneous tools to fight in every possible situation. Justified since one failure means China, and eventually the rest of the world, is doomed. Among their strangest contraptions are whistling arrows and giant ear trumpets to detect Tao Tei via sound when the mountains become foggy.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Using balloons to travel from the Wall to anywhere else. They can make a two days long horse ride in six hours but the balloons are incredibly unsafe and prone to catching fire.
  • Decadent Court: The Imperial Court is presented this way. The Emperor is a spoiled brat surrounded by counselors more preoccupied with currying favor than actually working against the Tao Tei.
  • Deadly Disc: The Order's foot soldiers wield ornate circular shields ringed with sharp blades, which essentially makes the things buzzsaw blades with a handle. They're shown to be frighteningly effective as a melee weapon, too, and William even catches, then throws one at a Tao Tei with a proficiency that would make Captain America proud.
  • Death from Above: An example as unusual as it is awesome can be found in the Crane Troops, an all-female branch of the Order that basically weaponizes bungee jumping by hurling themselves from the Wall, stabbing as many Tao Tei as possible to death with their spears, then getting pulled up again for another round. The Wall's defenders also make use of more traditional examples like entire catapult batteries loaded with firebombs, and of course thousands of archers for the mandatory Rain of Arrows.
  • Defiant to the End: In the first battle that we see, one of the Crane Corps soldiers continues hacking and slashing away at the Tao Tei swarming her even as she's being torn apart piece by piece.
  • Dented Iron: William takes his shirt off after the first battle, which lets Lin see plenty of old scars he has in his back.
  • Drums of War: The Nameless Order uses an entire drum squad to transmit orders. They stand on top of the tower not caring about things like firing catapults and rushing monsters, start a few pieces of soundtrack and use nunchaku for drumsticks.
  • Dual Wielding:
    • Commander Lin dual wields spears in a showcase of Rank Scales with Asskicking.
    • Tovar dual-wields swords — a scimitar and a European longsword with Christian symbols carved into it that looks like it saw action in the Crusades.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: When William puts on some clothes after being taken care of by the doctors, Commander Lin sneaks a peek at his muscled back.
  • Enemy Mine: Mercenaries from different nations have teamed up to travel to China as the journey is extremely dangerous, between the harsh weather and the bandits. Tovar comments that under other circumstances, they would all be at each others' throats.
  • Explosive Breeder: Subverted with the Tao Tei Queen. She is not really shown giving birth or laying eggs in the film, and she doesn't seem to have any adaptations for quickly producing large numbers of young, so it's likely she can only raise an army rather slowly (which is why they attack only once every sixty years).
  • Eye Scream: Their eyes are the Tao Tei's sole weak spot, so naturally a lot of them get popped in welters of blood.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Tao Tei drones have eyes in their shoulder area instead of the head. The Queen and her guard have them on their heads like normal.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When a Tao Tei drone baited with explosives tries to approach the queen, a pair of guards momentarily hesitate and sniff the drone in question before letting it in, despite said explosives being clearly visible strapped on the drone's body.
  • Feed It a Bomb: One of the few effective ways of killing a Tao Tei.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The entrance of the Tao Tei Queen, as she enters the battlefield during the first battle.
  • Femme Fatalons: The Tao Tei Queen has some wicked-looking claws on her forepaws, though as she never directly takes part in combat we never see them in use.
  • Field Promotion: When General Zhao is fatally wounded by a Tao Tei, his last act is to name Commander Lin the new General of the Nameless Order. By the end of the film, she's traded in her blue Crane Troops armor for a dark silver suit identical to his (except fitted to a woman's body).
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Nameless Order warms up to William and Tovar considerably after both of them save a foot soldier from a Tao Tei and proceed to fight on the Wall.
  • Frontline General:
    • The commanders all fight beside their troops. It eventually costs General Zhao his life when he fights a Tao Tei.
    • The Tao Tei Queen herself, who emerges from the mountain to accompany her troops, and charges at the head of the swarm when they finally lay siege to the capital.
  • Funny Background Event: When the Tao Tei pause to heed their queen's command in the first battle, one of the drones in the background gets an eyeful of arrows and drops dead just as it pauses to listen.
  • Giant Mook: The Tao Tei queen's Praetorian Guard absolutely towers both over her and her countless lesser minions.
  • Giant Eye of Doom: Featured prominently in one teaser poster, and actually does a good job at concealing the uncanny location of said eyes.
  • Glasgow Grin: The Tao Tei queen, due to the shape of her lips and her oversized teeth.
  • Go for the Eye: Tao Tei can still rampage with a spear down their throat, but a single arrow in the eye is a mortal blow.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used extensively. There's actually a surprising amount of blood in the movie, but we only ever get to see it from afar or in the aftermath of battles. When the Tao Tei maul humans to death, the victims are either quickly buried under hordes of monsters, or the camera cuts away from the (presumably) horrific sight.
  • The Great Wall: The Great Wall of China itself is the centerpiece of the movie.
  • He Knows Too Much: Sir Ballard was a (relatively free) prisoner of the Great Wall for 25 years because he knows of the black powder, a military secret so important the Chinese are reluctant to use it against the Tao Tei. When William sees some black powder weapons be used, Lin implies that now he can't be allowed to leave either.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Largely averted. The various commanders (most prominently Lin) are often shown without their helmets, but they suit up as soon as combat is imminent. Played straight, however, during the climax where Lin goes bareheaded, but given the haste of her departure, she probably just didn't have the time to grab it.
  • Hell Hound: The canid-like Tao Tei evoke this.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The Tao Tei queen has an eerie and distinctive call which she uses to signal her drones.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A recurring occurrence, as General Zhao puts himself in a Tao Tei's way to save Lin, the young nameless soldier blows himself up to stop a band of Tao Tei, and Wang tosses the precious magnet to Lin so that she can be protected as she tries to kill the Queen and is devoured by the Tao Tei.
  • Hive Queen: The Tao Tei have a Queen which directs them in battle and gives birth to more Tao Tei.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Tao Tei are a horde of monsters with a Hive Queen who attack in huge numbers and seek to devour everything in their way.
  • Idiot Ball: Despite being explicitly told to "aim for the eyes", William spears a Tao Tei down the throat, twice. He predictably almost gets eaten.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: William never misses his target during the entire movie. He's able to hit the eye of a moving Tao Tei under any circumstances, but his most impressive display of archery is being able to bounce a bowl into a pillar with an arrow and shoot two arrows underneath it to support it. The whole crowd of soldiers watching is naturally impressed. The two times his arrows don't find their mark aren't actually his fault.
  • Info Dump: A lot of information and the implications of something that's happened on screen are stated. William and Tovar notably discuss out loud what role each color-coded branch of the Chinese Army fills for no real reason.
  • It Can Think: Tao Tei are easily mistaken for mindless beasts, but their Queen commands them efficiently and they still individually have the cunning of a predator. One early example of their intelligence is that they take back any fallen Tao Tei in order to prevent the Chinese from studying their weaknesses.
  • Karmic Death: Sir Ballard, who's stolen black powder from the Chinese and proceeded to betray Tovar, is captured by the hill tribes then dies when a bomb falls into the fire near him and explodes.
  • Key Confusion: When the Tao Tei attack for the first time, William and Tovar are to be locked up, but the soldier responsible can't find the right key on his keyring. They are thus taken up the wall instead.
  • Keystone Army: If the Queen dies, Strategist Wang suspects every Tao Tei will perish as well. His suspicions are confirmed at the end, as every Tao Tei stop in their tracks after their queen blows up.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Chinese use an abundant quantity of fire to repel the Tao Tei, but it's not a particular weakness of theirs.
  • Killer Gorilla: The Tao Tei Queen's guards are bulky and ape-like brutes, roughly the size of large elephants.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The Tao Tei Queen is perfectly willing to order a retreat when she sees her Zerg Rush tactics don't work.
  • Large and in Charge: The Tao Tei Queen is noticeably bigger than her drones, though not by much.
  • Logo Joke: The Universal logo zooms into China, going all the way to a section of the Great Wall and through a crack in the section, seen here.
  • Made of Iron: The Tao Tei are nearly impervious to bodily harm. Even shoving a giant spear down their throat barely slows them down. Only attacking the eyes, or inflicting truly massive physical trauma (like shearing them in half) can kill them.
  • Male Gaze: When one of the Crane Troopers jumps down the Wall, the camera briefly focuses on her chest area.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Are the Tao Tei really divine retribution sent by the gods to punish mankind? Or simply a random coincidence of an alien invasion happening during a tyrannical emperor's reign? The film leaves either option ambiguous.
  • Meaningful Echo: Lin and William discuss each other's lives, and see that they've lived all their lives in war. However, whereas Lin fought for her country and trusts her comrades, William is a mercenary and only trusts coin, thus leading to them saying that they're actually different. At the end of the movie, after William's character development, he comments that they were wrong and that he and Lin are really the same kind of people deep down.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Subverted. While the vast majority of the forces at the Wall are men, the Crane Troops are made entirely of women due to being lighter for their duty (to bungee-jump down the Wall to kill Tao Tei trying to climb it). They have one of the most dangerous jobs, and their casualties are appropriately high.
  • Mighty Whitey: Zigzagged. It's William who learns a lesson about fighting for more than himself and trusting his comrades from the Chinese, although he does contribute heavily to the fight against the Tao Tei, killing several in his first encounters despite knowing nothing about them while the Chinese have trained their entire lives but go down easily for the most part. Overall, William is less a savior and more a foil to the Chinese; both are brave and heroic, but the Chinese fight for a unified purpose while William owes allegiance to no one. His usefulness also mostly stems from his travels around the world and picking up knowledge along the way, such as whale hunting which is utilized later on. Some netizens in China actually refer to him as a glorified tour guide of the awesomeness that is ancient (fantasy) China.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Averted again. Lin is put in a position of power over William at first, and then they stand on equal footing. At the end, no romance comes out of their relationship although it's implied they have feelings for each other, but they respect deeply each other's valour.
    Ballard: He [William] should be careful, she's very powerful here.
    Tovar: Then it's a fair contest.
  • The Minion Master: The Tao Tei queen, who controls her individually weak, but innumerable children, who without her instruction are completely mindless and fall still.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: The Tao Tei resemble a cross between a hyena, an alligator, and a shark, with iridescent green hides and eyes on their shoulder area.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: A single Tao Tei has shark-like teeth organized in several rows in the mouth. The Queen has such long and prominent teeth that she can't actually close her mouth properly and is left with a permanent sneer.
  • Multinational Team: The group of mercenaries, or at least their remnants seen at the beginning of the film comprises of an Englishman (William), a Spaniard (Tovar), an Arab and an Italian.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Actually a persistent object of discussion between William and Lin. First it's used by him, then rebutted by her in the same conversation, and eventually amicably confirmed by both.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • William and Tovar have this reaction when they openly discuss their escape plan in the presence of the Chinese-speaking Order commanders, only to realize that Lin understands what they're saying when she suddenly addresses them in English.
    • Followed up amusingly a few minutes later when Tovar insults Lin behind her back in Spanish.
    • The Tao Tei Queen herself, as she realizes the lighted arrow has penetrated the guards' shields. She frantically chews on the arrow to extinguish it, only for it to blow up in her face.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: William is supposed to be an Englishman. Matt Damon's accent, on the other hand, bounces between Irish, Scottish and American.
  • Panthera Awesome: In comparison to her brutish, canid drones, the Tao Tei queen has a sleek, elegant, cheetah-like build and gait, rather surprising given that all she does is eat and give birth.
  • Peeling Potatoes: A young soldier is sent to the kitchens after he screws up in front of the brass, embarrassing his superior officer in the process. We actually see him working there later, wearing a white apron — over his heavy black armor.
  • Power of Trust: It's hammered down that the Chinese Army's efficiency is founded on the trust that every other member will fulfill their duty, allowing a soldier to focus on his own task. This trust goes a long way since when William is accused of having tried to steal black powder, General Lin is willing to listen to the testimony of a simple foot soldier who saw that William wasn't part of the heist.
  • Praetorian Guard: Specialized Tao Tei are tasked with guarding the Queen. They're notable for being three times more massive than a normal Tao Tei and can deploy a sturdy bone shield which can withstand any bombardment.
  • Rain of Arrows: No Chinese-influenced historical epic would be complete without at least one.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: The Chinese commanders are also the greatest individual warriors of their troops.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Nameless Order's entire command staff certainly counts. They're understandably wary of the shifty foreigners that just showed up at their doorstep chased by indigenous riders, but they're equally willing to listen to Strategist Wang's reasonable arguments. Once William and Tovar have proven themselves in battle, they're warmly welcomed into the fold and given free rein of the Wall. Even after Tovar and Ballard abscond with the secrets of Chinese black powder and leave William behind to take the blame, a furious Lin accepts the testimony of the very same lowly foot soldier who didn't exactly distinguish himself up to this point, and merely imprisons William instead of having him executed right away.
  • Royal Brat: The emperor is a textbook example.
  • Rule of Cool: Bungee jumping and rappelling soldiers? Playing massive war drums with nunchucks? Giant blades that come out of the wall and bisect clambering attackers? Rule of Cool pretty much runs this movie.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: In the original Chinese legends, the taotie has its eyes located on its armpits. Though it's likely that the film designers simply relocated them to the shoulders as it would admittedly be more "practical" that way.
  • Samurai Ponytail: Commander Lin and the other Crane Troops wear their hair like this.
  • Scenery Porn: The mountainous landscapes of Northern China are milked for all they're worth, from the bright red hills to the eerie foggy summits looking like a traditional Chinese ink painting.
  • Secret Weapon: The black powder is treated as this by the Chinese Army.
  • She-Fu: Lin does an unnecessary but cool-looking backflip the second time she jumps from the Wall, contrasting the other Crane Troops who take bog-standard headers instead.
  • Ship Tease: William and Lin share many tender moments which seem like they could lead into a romantic relationship. It doesn't go anywhere, and at the end of the movie William departs for Europe, though he does intend to come back.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Smart Guy: Strategist Wang is the leading expert on Tao Tei, is responsible for making black powder or miscellaneous concoctions, and tactically counsels the General.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Viewers well-versed in Classical Chinese culture would be able to recognize that the Tao Tei are based on the Taotie, whose English name is based on the modern Chinese pronunciation of the word in pinyin. The word used in the movie is closer to an approximation of the same word in Middle Chinese, and as such, could result in a few inconsistencies regarding how to spell it since "Tei" is not a valid pinyin spelling.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The Chinese Army's greatest weapon is their black powder. A small quantity of it is enough to blow up one Tao Tei. Lin and William manage to take out the Tao Tei queen with a black powder arrow and several bombs.
  • Taking You with Me: The nameless young soldier, heavily but not mortally wounded already, pulls a Heroic Sacrifice this way by detonating a black powder charge to buy the heroes more time, taking out several Tao Tei in the process. Even Lin looks equal parts impressed and distressed at the sight.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sure, take the captured monstrosity that's known to have a telepathic link to its queen straight to the emperor and into the very heart of the Chinese capital, the one place you've fought and died to keep the Tao Tei away from for twenty centuries. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?. In case you're wondering, what goes wrong is that the court scientists, in the course of investigating the distance at which a magnet will incapacitate a Tao Tei, allow it to signal its location to the queen, who immediately directs her children that way.
  • Trick Arrow: The Chinese have explosive arrows, but also special arrows on which whistles are attached in order to detect any Tao Tei hit by a whistling arrow.
  • *Twang* Hello: The Chinese Army introduces itself to William and Tovar by shooting a whole circle worth of arrows around the two mercenaries.
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: The hot-air balloons. Well, they apparently did test them since they know there's a very high chance of the things (and everyone aboard) going up in flames, but the technology is definitely not yet ready for field deployment. Lin decides to take the risk anyway since at that point it's the only option she has.
  • Visual Pun: Crane Troops fight suspended in the air by a rope-and-spar contraption.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Tovar constantly belittles and insults William, who shrugs it off since Tovar is still ready to jump into battle to save him. At the end, after Tovar is captured by the Army, William intervenes to grant him amnesty.
    William: The last time I saw you, you left me for dead.
    Tovar: The time before that I saved your life!
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Tao Tei are susceptible to magnetized iron. Wang theorizes its energy isolates them from the Queen's mind control and without command, a Tao Tei simply sits still even as soldiers kill it.
  • Weaponized Land Mark: The Great Wall of China is equipped with many fire catapults and also has an incorporated system of rotating blades in order to stop the Tao Tei from scaling the Wall.
  • Where's the Kaboom?:
    • When Ballard and Tovar try to break into Wang's office, they use a stick of black powder to blow up the lock but the explosion doesn't seem to come even if the fuse is spent. Ballard tells Tovar to check and immediately after he steps up, the sticks explode.
    • After General Lin succeeds in throwing the explosives into the Queen, there is a delayed reaction before the bomb goes off and kills her.
  • World of Action Girls: Commander Lin, and by extension the all-female Crane Troops, who leap down the Great Wall to fight the Tao Tei up close. Their attrition rate is naturally very high but they jump anyway.
  • You Are in Command Now: General Zhao promotes Commander Lin to General of the Nameless Order when he's fatally wounded by a Tao Tei.
  • Zerg Rush: The Tao Tei's traditional tactic is to multiply and then throw themselves at the Great Wall to overrun the defenders. It's ultimately subverted, as the attacks are only a diversion while they dig a tunnel underneath the Wall. It doesn't help that every single Tao Tei is a Made of Iron one-monster army capable of devastating whole squads on its own.