Zhang Yimou's fan for 20 years

Pedro Pascal plays a Spanish mercenary who gets embroiled in the war between the Chinese army and flesh-eating monsters while searching for gunpowder in The Great Wall. American actor Pedro Pascal framed the handwritten letter he received from direct
Pedro Pascal plays a Spanish mercenary who gets embroiled in the war between the Chinese army and flesh-eating monsters while searching for gunpowder in The Great Wall. PHOTO: UIP

Chile-born actor Pedro Pascal says he signed on for The Great Wall to work with the acclaimed Chinese film-maker, his idol

For Chile-born American actor Pedro Pascal, signing on to shoot The Great Wall movie for five months in China was a no-brainer - he just wanted to work with director Zhang Yimou.

While it is typical for actors to talk about how much they love their directors, Pascal sounds genuine when he gushes about the Chinese film-maker of award-winning works such as Red Sorghum (1987) and To Live (1994).

The actor goes as far as to describe Zhang as his idol, as well as his "favourite director for the last 20 years".

Speaking to The Straits Times during an interview in Beijing, the 41-year-old says: "I'm kind of a movie nerd and I have watched all types of films since I was very young.

"Then I saw Zhang Yimou's Raise The Red Lantern (1991) in the theatre and that really introduced me to international cinema. I saw all of his films after that. At one point, when Hero (2002) became big, people were asking me, 'Have you seen Hero?'

"And I was like, 'Dude, I have seen seven of his films before Hero'. And I've seen Shanghai Triad (1995) at least four times in the theatre."


American actor Pedro Pascal framed the handwritten letter he received from director Zhang Yimou and posted a photo on Instagram. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/PASCALISPUNK

The Great Wall, a mega ChineseHollywood production, is a fantasy creature feature that spins a new myth over the Great Wall of China: that it was built to block flesh-eating monsters known as taotie.

The film, which opened in Singapore last week, has performed well at the local box office, earning more than $2.2 million in its opening weekend to take the No. 1 spot.

Pascal plays Spanish mercenary Tovar, who, along with English mercenary William (played by Matt Damon), gets embroiled in the war between the Chinese army and the taotie while in China searching for expensive gunpowder.

Before going to China to shoot the movie, the actor sent an e-mail to the director, telling him just how much he admired him.

"I felt I had to confess," he says.

In return, Zhang, 66, gave him a handwritten letter in Chinese upon his arrival, which said that he was touched that the actor had been a fan for so long and that he was very excited to work with Pascal.

Pascal took the note, had it framed and posted it on his Instagram account (@pascalispunk) with the caption: "My handwritten letter from director #ZhangYimou. Yeah I f***ing framed it."

He says: "I am such a fan because he has this incredible range and he really gets cinema. He is also very careful with details and gets the nuances of every character right for his stories."

Pascal, who is best known to Game Of Thrones fans for his short but memorable stint as the charming Oberyn Martell in Season 4 of the show, says: "When I was on Game Of Thrones, it felt like a huge movie because of the sets and the costumes.

"But then I got to do this movie and this was much, much more. The scale was just incredible. We shot the film on built sets, but it was all so detailed that it was almost unbelievable."

The Great Wall cost US$150 million (S$217.2 million) to make and is the most expensive Chinese film in history.

It was mostly shot in Qingdao Movie Metropolis, a facility owned by Wanda, the Chinese conglomerate which acquired the film's producer, Legendary Entertainment.

Besides filming, Pascal, who is single, did a lot of travelling during his five months in China, he says, including going to the Great Wall in Beijing.

"I saw the Great Wall months after shooting, so it felt very strange. I just kept thinking of the taotie attacking the wall and I was laughing as I told myself to stop thinking about that."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•The Great Wall is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Zhang Yimou's fan for 20 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe