Hollywood in Asia: Oscar-worthy filming locations to visit
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Asia has long been an appealing setting for Hollywood filmmakers.
With its urban cities, rich cultures, exotic races and sprawling landscapes of forests, mountains and untouched beaches, it’s easy to see why so many great films were shot in the region.
And it’s a win-win deal for both the host city or country and the filmmaker: in exchange for providing stunning backdrops for movies, a popular movie helps increase tourism to the film’s shooting location. Movies have been known to make even the most ordinary and underrated of places something extraordinary and meaningful, and can therefore significantly influence inbound tourism.
From rom-com flicks to action-packed movies, here are some blockbuster-worthy filming locations that you can visit.
Thailand: The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields is a 1984 British biographical drama film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia based on the experiences of two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. Starring Sam Waterston as Sydney Schanberg, Haing S. Ngor as Dith Pran, Julian Sands as Jon Swain, and John Malkovich as Al Rockoff, the film tells the story of an American journalist and a local Cambodian who were friends but were separated during the Khmer Rouge invasion of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The incredible movie went on to be a huge success at the box office as well as being an instant hit with critics. It bagged a whopping 29 awards and 20 nominations, including three Oscars and eight British Academy Film awards (BAFTAs). Ngor, who plays Dith Pran, was himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and the labor camps. Although he has had no acting experience before appearing in The Killing Fields, he won “Best Supporting Actor” for the movie, the first and only Asian man to receive such an accolade.
The Killing Fields was filmed mostly in Bangkok, Phuket and Hua Hin.
Cambodia: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (also known as simply Tomb Raider) is a 2001 action-adventure film based on the popular Tomb Raider video game series. Starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie’s father Jon Voight as Lord Richard Croft, the movie revolves around Lara Croft trying to obtain ancient artefacts from the enemy, the Illuminati.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider marked the first time in over three decades that a Hollywood production was filmed in Cambodia. Portions of the film were shot on location at the ruins of Ta Prohm temple and Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The movie debuted at number one with US$48.2 million, giving Paramount its second-best debut and the fifth-highest debut of 2001. It was the highest-grossing film on its opening weekend and Jolie received praises for her performance.
Because the movie did so well, not long after it was released, Jolie was granted permanent access to Cambodia for putting Angkor Thom on the map.
Indonesia: Eat Pray Love
Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, the Julia Roberts-starring biographical romantic comedy-drama film of the same name was shot in 2010. The centers on lost and confused Gilbert, newly divorced and at crossroads, searching for what she really wants in life. Thus, she steps out of her comfort zone, embarks on a journey around the world – Italy, India, Indonesia – on a quest for self-discovery, but finally and unexpectedly finds inner peace and love in Bali.
Although the movie received mixed to negative reviews from critics, Eat Pray Love was still a financial success, grossing US$204.6 million worldwide against a US$60 million budget. Perhaps the appeal was the breathtaking backdrop of mystical Bali that kept people’s eyes glued to the screen. Maybe, for a moment there, the audience believed that they, too, can attain enlightenment at a life-changing retreat.
According to TIME, Eat Pray Love has inspired hordes of spiritual tourists to visit the Indonesian island. Tour companies have also fashioned tours around the Eat Pray Love concept, promising to recreate Gilbert’s four transformative months in Bali, complete with exquisite spa and wellness services.
Vietnam: Kong: Skull Island
Before it was even discovered or open for tourism, the Kong: Skull Island production crew bundled up their gear and made their way to the biggest cave in the world, Son Doong Cave in Vietnam’s Quang Binh Province. Son Doong Cave is so big, it has its own river, jungle and climate – the perfect aesthetic for the film. Starring an ensemble cast consisting of Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, and John C. Reilly, Kong: Skull Island follows a team of scientists and a US Army unit recently withdrawn from the Vietnam War who travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific and encounter terrifying creatures and the mighty Kong.
Due to the buzz that Kong: Skull Island generated, Vietnam’s international image rose up the ranks among Hollywood producers. It also opened up the floodgates for tour companies to capitalize on the movie’s fame, selling adventure tours to certain sections of the gorgeous and otherworldly cave. Not that anyone is complaining, of course.
Tourists can even rent motorcycles and ride along Da Deo Pass, where some scenes were also shot.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola David, Holt McCallany and Wang Lee Hom, Blackhat in a 2015 American action thriller film. The movie follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta. Although it bombed, earning only US$19.7 million at the box office against a budget of US$70 million, some critics found brilliance in the film, enough to get it onto some year-end lists.
More importantly, Blackhat was filmed in a couple of locations around the world including Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Malaysia. Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the filming site in Jakarta while the shoot in Malaysia took place at various locations including Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang, Pulau Pangkor, Manjung, Lumut, Marina Island and Putrajaya.
The filming in Malaysia lasted about five weeks.
Hong Kong: The Dark Knight
Director Christopher Nolan went on a worldwide scout for locations for The Dark Knight and ultimately decided on multiple cities including Chicago, London and far East bustling Asian hub, Hong Kong. Starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Heath Ledger as the Joker, the film is the second part of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy and a sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins.
Filming took place in Hong Kong for about a week in November 2017 at various locations in Central including the city’s tallest building at that time, the Two International Finance Centre. Helicopters and a C-130 aircraft were hired to film the scene in which the caped crusader captures Chinese accountant and crime lord Lau. The city’s officials were initially concerned over possible noise pollution and traffic, and environmentalists also criticized the filmmakers’ request to tenants of the waterfront skyscrapers to keep their lights on all night to enhance the cinematography. In the end, Nolan created Batman’s jump from the skyscraper digitally.
The Dark Knight was hailed as one of the best superhero films ever, with over US$1 billion in revenue worldwide. It became the highest-grossing film of 2008 and is the 32nd-highest-grossing film of all time.
The Philippines: The Bourne Legacy
The Bourne Legacy is a 2012 American action thriller film and the fourth installment in the series of films adapted from the Jason Bourne novels. It is preceded by The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn, the film centers on black ops agent Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner).
Most of the film was shot over 12 weeks at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York, including all interior Washington DC scenes. The scenes in the Philippines, however, were mostly real. El Nido in Palawan served as a filming location and in the film, it was used as an escape route from Manila. Other known shooting locations include Remedios Circle, Malate; San Andres neighborhood; Intramuros; Pasay-Taft Rotonda; Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard; Marikina wet market; and Navotas fish port. The scenes set in the “SteriPacific” factory in Manila, however, were actually filmed in the New York Times printing plant in Queens.
Despite being criticized for “showing poverty” in Manila, the movie was believed to have given a boost to Philippine tourism.