Lights, Camera and Action in Hengdian World Studio
EVER wondered where they shot the Chinese wuxia films like Hero, The Promise, Curse of the Golden Flower??? How about the Forbiden Kingdom and third installment for the film Mummy showed recently in major cinemas? The answer is the village called in Hengdian in Zhejiang Province, China. And yes, this is the country’s own version of Hollywood and Universal Studio and it’s called Hengdian World Studios. With a total land area of up to more than 30 million square meters and replica of ancient Chinese buildings it is considered to be the world’s largest movie studio.
Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be with my Filipino friends (15 of us) sailed south from Shanghai and investigate if the flashy pictures and promising ads posted in the Hengdian website were no fancy at all. By mid noon, after being wash out by rain along Zhejiang expressway and lost our way so many times, we reached the town of Hengdian. We knew were on the right track when we had a glimpse of those familiar tall maroon walls you see in Beijing minus Chairman Mao picture. After dropping our luggage in a hotel nearby and feasting our lunch in a local restaurant, we commenced on our tour with itineraries still unclear.
Day 1 09.14.08AD
First stop was the Palace of Qing and Ming or Forbidden City and we bought the ticket here for 330rmb that would be good for 3 days and can use for most the theme parks. The ticket price for a day pegged at 100rmb plus I think. From outside you would already have an idea how big the copied version of the imperial palace but the moment you step inside it walls everything became larger than life. I have never been to the original palace in Beijing but this one in Hengdian gave me an impression how impressive Chinese people were in building palatial architecture so vast yet still loyal to detail. What’s interesting also in visiting this place was that there were only few tourists wondering that would be impossible to happen in capital so it’s a good site to take pictures of the spaces minus the people. In the Hall of the Supreme Harmony, for 100rmb, I became the emperor of China wearing that yellow silk imperial gown seating on a fake glittering gold throne.
Next we headed to Dreamlike Valley which I think should only be named Dream Valley. Entering its gate you’d be welcome by a jungle ambiance complete with mist with big artificial trees (painted concrete trunks and pvc leaves) you must climb to greet Tarzan hello and view the park from the tree top. There were few rides in the park and I avoided the one they called Windmill. When dark fell we found ourselves on the grandstand watching a magnificent show combining earth, water, and fire in the overall production of dance and music. It’s like Beijing Olympics opening all over again. Later, in a different venue, we watched the flooding of a village with volumes of water cascading down from hill top with real actors running escaping the great deluge.
Day 2 09.15.08AD
The tour we started early this time. Before 9am we were standing and in awe before the great towering walls of the legendary of Emperor Qin Palace. My all time favorite wuxia movie is Zhang Yimou’s Hero and I was glad to reach their shooting location and even more glad upon entering its courtyard and saw the architectural drama inside. The two square shaped courtyards were so spacious and bordered by six storey high slanting battlement walls and sentry towers would remind you of ancient wars you’d see only in the silver screen. To make it centuries old, some walls look like clad in wood but really it was just concrete painted to mimic wood texture up close. Getting to another courtyard is to cross this narrow passage way squeezed by two walls that would offer you a different look of space of earth and sky and in between.
Getting to the emperor hall was climbing its grand stairs guarded by iconic dragon like sculptures. But visitors beware of beating those drums near the hall entry, it would cost you 30rmb for gonging it. Though replica and unreal, the emperor’s hall interior was amazing in size and details. It was dominated of colors black and red. The central skylight was the only source of light received by this great hall. Before the imperial throne a sunken area was place with a bridge like platform over a pool of black, yellow and red hue. You can rent a custom with weapon of your choice for 30rmb. Our group staged a scene and viola! we created an opus so memorable I want to smile when remember.
Another park named Qing Ming Shang He Tu meanwhile got the inspiration from a Chinese artist interpretation of the Song Dynasty period. It gives you a preview of type architecture in that era, residential of poor, middle class and the rich, the commercial, the government and religious structures, and army’s fortress and headquarters. To add drama to the green landscape and architecture, they created a pond inside the park to represent the Bianhe river that mirror a perfect reflection of so Chinese and so China. Here, we first saw TV series being made and Styrofoam props sculpture on display that looks like polished granite.
After exploring the two parks everybody was obviously tired so we took our lunch to energize near the area and later back again trekking and crossing bridges to the site they called Guangzhou and Xiangang (HK) Jie (street). The amenities here provided a glimpse of the old Southern China during the sampling on two cities of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, a British colony during that time. At the west portion located the Hongkong colony with colonial architecture and hilly topography in sight. The other side meanwhile offered everyone old and countryside Guangzhou during the early days of the republic I assumed. The walk in these streets, with few people to be seen, was really the best activity to do here. At the same time, there were three shooting location happening as we navigate the site. We were treated by a spectacular 30 minutes show ala Pirates of Carribbean, with balls of fire flying, bomb exploding, and death defying acts that would take your breath away. But the good thing was there will always be tasteful spaghetti to eat to make your day.
The place had still more to offer like the Dazhi Temple and riding a cable car to mountain top but we sadly were running out of time and money. Overall, I found the trip amazing and an experience of a life time and explore the rest of the ancient China in 2-3 days all in one village called Hengdian.