Klieg lights, bright city

Unsung Chongqing lures shoots

Chongqing is the biggest city in the world, though chances are you may not have heard of it. It’s also the hottest venue for shooting pics in China right now as lensers make the most of the atmospheric city and enjoy the support of the willing and able local government.

OK, so it’s actually China’s fourth-largest city, but Chongqing and the surrounding municipal area were recently removed from Sichuan province and brought under direct control by Beijing, making it the biggest urban area in the world, with more than 30 million people.

That does not put off helmers bored with the well-worn urban offerings of Beijing and Shanghai and keen to give a more regional flavor to their movies. And while the local government does not offer much in the way of tax breaks or direct investment, it does help in many other ways that can really grease the wheels on a big production.

Zhang Yimou shot scenes for “Curse of the Golden Flower” at a famous scenic spot at Tiankeng, near Chongqing, and authorities were happy to allow China’s greatest living director to build a Tang dynasty inn on the site, as well as provide help with other facilities.

“There is no money on offer, but it is a prettier city than many, and it’s tremendously atmospheric: It’s got the mountains behind it, the river, and it’s got all these steppes and hills — it makes for a very mysterious environment,” says Wang Zhaohui of Rosat Film Prods.

Rosat’s latest project, China’s first major horror movie, “The Door,” has just bowed in China and was shot in Chongqing by helmer Li Shaohong.

“It’s called the City of Fog in some quarters, and it’s a great place to shoot suspense. Plus, the local government is extremely helpful — they allowed us to clear People’s Square to film the car chase scenes, and also cleared the traffic to let us shoot on an unfinished bridge there.”

What the city offers is diversity. It has ancient wooden buildings beside huge glass skyscrapers and seems to lie on the crux between traditional culture and modern lifestyles, an appealing combination for filmmakers.

Comedy “Crazy Stone” took Chinese cinema by surprise last year, registering boffo B.O. for its unknown helmer, Ning Hao. A co-production by Warner China Film HG, Beijing-based Concord Creation Intl. and Hong Kong pop star Andy Lau’s Focus Films, the movie cost just $750,000 to make.

It’s a Chongqing film, with the characters speaking in the difficult Sichuanese dialect of the area — there are subtitles in Mandarin Chinese.

Ning’s decision to shoot in Chongqing puzzled many as he snubbed the traditional cities of Beijing and Shanghai for film shoots. But the tyro helmer never doubted his decision.

“First, it should be a hot city. The characters of the story are ready to do something. And the humid-hot climate can draw them to the edge of insanity,” he told the Shanghai Daily. After visiting Chongqing last year, Ning said he was amazed at how the city had changed and developed.

“It seems that I can see through the 300-year evolution of the city in one view. Here, anything is possible. No place else is better than Chongqing to run a story like that,” he told the paper.

Another big movie this year to take place in Chongqing was “Curiosity Kills the Cat,” which takes place in a luxury apartment building in the city.

Native son Zhang Yibai uses the film to show both sides of this huge locale — the way the tall buildings are juxtaposed against the green hills surrounding the city, and the down-at-the-heel buildings on the edge of the city’s consciousness.

Cameraman Yang Tao used many views of the city to tell the story, from the top of tall buildings and down dark alleys.

And more projects are ongoing, although there are no hard numbers available. There were media reports recently that rising Chinese warbler Huang Yue is due to co-star with Taiwanese thesp Shu Qi in a Hong Kong project helmed by Stanley Kwan, tentatively entitled “Lost in Chongqing.” And these projects are likely not the last.

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