×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chinese back lot grows to epic proportions

Strengths are in its moviemaking infrastructure

ZHEJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA — The sun rising at dawn over the Forbidden City in China’s ancient capital. Or a marketplace in the Ming or the Qing dynasty. Or a kung-fu brawl in a teahouse spilling out onto the streets of 1920s Shanghai. Or how about an army scaling the walls of a castle in the Warring States period?

All of these scenarios are possible at Asia’s biggest film base, Hengdian Studios, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, which boasts 13 movie lots spread over 330 hectares (815 acres), and it’s luring a growing number of productions as well as tourists, since Hengdian is also a popular theme park.

The biggest hit shot here was Zhang Yimou’s 2002 “Hero”; many subsequent projects shot in Hengdian — around 50 a year — are likewise historical epics.

And although Hengdian is huge, post-production is not a major strength in China, with most big pics tending to go to Australia or Hong Kong for post work.

Hengdian’s strengths are in its moviemaking infrastructure.

As well as a full-size replica of the Forbidden City on a 100-acre site, it has the Emperor Qin’s palace and both Ming and Qing dynasty palaces. The lot has a 148-foot-high Grand Hall of Dazhi Temple, with a 98-foot-tall Buddha inside.

One soundstage within the complex is China’s largest, with an area of 20,925 square feet and a height of 75 feet. The Hengdian Group has spent around $240 million developing the site.

The first project shot in Hengdian, a town of 100,000 people, was “The Opium War” back in 1996, and since then 300 crews have visited the set.

Hengdian has advantages over other filmmaking hot spots, including Beijing and Shanghai, because it has a lot of water and is relatively inexpensive compared with those cities. There is also a ready supply of cheap labor around.

The studios are located in the lush Zhejiang region. Many of the local villages have become known as “extra villages” because of the way the residents now make more of their income as movie extras than they do from farming.

Hengdian is keen to cater to the country’s booming biz, but the theme park also is a major draw.

For $5, tourists can visit the Hollywood of the East just as visitors can tour Universal Studios, to see a Hong Kong street and all of the palaces, among other attractions. Last year, the site had 4.6 million visitors, a rise of 32% over the year before.

“We’re not trying to be a second Hollywood — there are a lot of crucial differences. Both the film industry and tourism are our major business here. Our future is also a major theme park,” says Zeng Yuling, chief editor of the Hengdian Movie & TV Tourism magazine.

Hengdian is a five-hour drive south from Shanghai, although Hangzhou airport is much nearer, around a two-hour drive.

Chinese auds are crazy for costume sudsers, and historical skeins dominate production at Hengdian at the moment. Among the major projects being made are “Women’s Flowers” (Nu Ren Hua), while Jet Li starrer “Ci Ma” (The Warlords) has just wrapped. He comes back this month for what’s being dubbed the J&J Project, which also stars Jackie Chan and Michael Angarano, with Rob Minkoff at the helm.

Besides its back lot ops, the Hengdian Group is involved in many areas other than film and has more than 60 subsidiaries, 130 affiliated companies and three China-listed companies. The group is a partner with Warner Bros. in Warner China Films HG, which has had a major success in producing Chinese-language movies.

More Film

  • A still from Sea of Shadows

    Sundance Film Review: 'Sea of Shadows'

    It’s a decidedly grim circle of life that moves us all in “Sea of Shadows,” a tight, troubling documentary eco-thriller that charts a compelling course of consequence from Chinese black-market apothecaries to the near-extinction of a rare whale in the Sea of Cortez, hitting on Mexican crime cartels and institutional corruption along the way. Austrian [...]

  • Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie Circle Edgar

    Matt Smith, 'Leave No Trace' Star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie Circle Edgar Wright Movie

    Matt Smith and “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie are in negotiations to join Edgar Wright’s next film, “Last Night in Soho,” sources tell Variety. Details are vague about the psychological horror movie, other than it being set in London’s Soho district. Anya Taylor Joy is also in the cast. Production is expected to [...]

  • Vice Media

    Vice Media Taps Joe Simon as Chief Technology Officer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Joe Simon has been tapped as chief technology officer at Vice Media. The newly created role will include oversight of data analytics, engineering, information technology, media operations, media technology, post production, and systems management. Prior to Vice, Simon spent three years as Encompass Digital Media’s chief operating officer. Previously he held the chief technology officer [...]

  • Michael B Jordan denzel washington

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Denzel Washington's 'Journal for Jordan'

    Michael B. Jordan is in talks to star in Sony’s “Journal for Jordan,” a drama that will be directed by Denzel Washington. The movie, penned by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Virgil Williams, is based on the true story of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dana Canedy’s love affair with First Sergeant Charles Monroe King. King kept a journal [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone

    Sylvester Stallone's Superhero Drama 'Samaritan' Lands at MGM

    MGM is developing the superhero drama “Samaritan” with Sylvester Stallone attached to star and produce through his Balboa Productions. The studio has acquired Bragi F. Schut’s script, which centers on a boy learning that a missing superhero, who vanished 20 years earlier after a battle, may still be alive. MGM will develop “Samaritan” with Stallone [...]

  • Kendrick Lamar

    Oscars: Kendrick Lamar and SZA Will Not Perform 'Black Panther' Song (EXCLUSIVE)

    Despite the Academy’s efforts to secure Kendrick Lamar and SZA for a performance of the Oscar-nominated song “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” on the upcoming Oscars telecast, the duo will not be a part of the show, Variety has learned. The reason, according to a source close to the situation, is logistics and timing. [...]

  • Oscars Spa Treatments

    Area Spas Offer Red Carpet Treatments in Time for Oscars

    From a shopping session with a celebrity stylist to a covert airport pickup, these hotels and spas are offering even more curated packages for the ultimate VIP Oscar experience. For the Jetsetter Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills’ Doheny Suite Experience package allows travelers to evade the paparazzi with an underground or curbside [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content