Production designer Pan Lai relied on extensive research and memory for his re-creation of Shanghai and Hong Kong during WWII. “We did research on a daily basis, and we were able to find people that were alive during those times” whose memories supplemented the many documents, photos and films also used in the research. The theater, boutique, cafe and jewelry shop built on the Shanghai set really did exist — with specifics lifted directly from the short story, in which Eileen Chang meticulously records details of the cityscapes and clothing of the period.
The massive Nanking Road set was purpose-built for the film at the Shanghai Film Group’s facility. “The Communist Chinese would not have allowed Nationalist China to be portrayed before; however, they have changed a lot of those attitudes, especially because Ang has international fame — they were actually very supportive,” says Pan. “Shanghai would be the only place in China where we would get what we needed to build the sets and find everything needed to make the film, like the old cars.”