When in the mid-1990s Xu Wenrong, founder and then chairman of Hengdian Group, learned that film director Xie Jin was looking for a location to shoot The Opium War decided to do something only available to great fortunes: create one from scratch. In just four months, the company built a street in Hengdian — a town located in Zhejian province, in the eastern region of the country — inspired by the 19th-century port city of Guangzhou.
Xie Jin’s tape worked well. And Wenrong’s company, perhaps encouraged by the experience, decided to repeat the feat… multiplying it by a thousand. That first street became the seed of a project that today, more than a quarter of a century later, has germinated in Hengdian World Studios, a huge set for movies and television with more than 30 filming spaces, sets, buildings that they represent historic palaces and gardens and legions and legions of technicians and actors. All a city devoted to cinema on what was once a hill with farmland.
Hengdian World Studios has reached such a dimension since the 1990s that its managers claim that it is “the largest film and television base in the world.” Of course it is not easy to find an outdoor studio with similar dimensions. The company claims its more than 100 movie sets make up “the world’s largest movie set” and more than 300 crews flock to its studios each year. Throughout its history, it already has 3,200, which, it calculates, represents approximately a quarter of China’s film and TV production.
The percentage is enormous, but some specialized media go further and —despite the fact that the country has other large filming bases, such as Shanghai Film Park, Zhongshan TV or Film City— they calculate that 70% of all films and television programs are recorded in Hengdian.
To complete the portrait, in 2008 China.org.cn pointed out that the studios covered 330 hectares and the built area of its different bases was close to 496,000 m2. The study also adds several records, such as hosting China’s largest Buddha figure in an enclosed space or the largest indoor movie studio. Hengdian is already being referred to as “China’s Hollywood”.
Have you ever wonder where do Chinese film their massive imperial cinema production every year?
Most of them took place in Hengdian World Studios, the world’s largest outdoor studio. They have replicas of ancient city, Forbidden City, Old Summer Palace, to 19th century streets. pic.twitter.com/eFfIHwAYyy
– Aurelia V (@senjatanuklir) August 14, 2020
Beyond its capital figures or having become a major tourist attraction, with dozens of hotels, thousands of rooms and an avalanche of visitors every year, Hengdian World Studios stands out for another feature, very much in tune with its origins as a film set from The Opium War: its amalgam of palaces, gardens, streets and squares inspired by the history of China, a display that – its creators presume – covers some 5,000 years of chronicle of the country.
Who walks through its streets can find replicas of the Qin Imperial Palace, another of the Ming and Qing dynasties, landscapes inspired by the works of Zhang Zeduan, a painter of the XI, streets that recreate the Guanzhou and Hong Kong of 1840 or the Shanghai from 1930, the Dazhi Temple, a park with a constructed area of around 50,000 m2 that recreates the aesthetics of the Tang dynasty or a scale replica of the Summer Palace in Beijing. In addition to the sets for filming, Hengdian includes areas designed as attractions for tourists, such as Dream Valley or Dreamful Spring Valley.
Probably one of those spaces already you have seen them without realizing it. Since the 1990s, Hengian has served as the setting for popular movies in and out of Asia. For example, actors from Tiger and dragon, The forbidden kingdom, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperorthe version of mulan released by Disney last year, or Chinese Paladin.
Pictures | Hengdian World
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism