Hollywood has long been fascinated with Asia for its exotic cultures, engrained sense of honor and duty, cinematic landscapes, romantic languages, and of course, its pioneering directors.
Asian cinema is just as enamored with its own exoticism, industry leaders such as Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood For Love) focus as much on the beauty of their locations, on Asian mythology and finely crafted cinematography, as they do on narrative.
Regardless of cinema’s tremendous works of imagination and the effort directors have taken to bring the beauty of Asia to a wider audience, the only way to experience the richness of the continent is to visit the locations yourself. Here are some of the most spectacular Asian destinations seen on film.
+ The Beach, 2000
Movie: The Beach, 2000
Location: Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
Props: SLR camera, a romantic inclination
Recreate the scene: Find a quiet spot on Maya Bay – the beach – and take ‘the perfect photograph’ of the night sky. Take turns with your partner in romance to stare at the stars through the camera’s viewfinder, discussing the existence of parallel worlds.
Between shoots: Maya Bay is located on Koh Phi Phi Leh – the smaller of the two Phi Phi islands (Phi Phi Don is the island with all the resorts and restaurants). You can snorkel, charter longtail boats around the limestone caves of Phang Nga Bay, eat your weight in fresh seafood and bask on powdery white sand waiting for Leo – or Francoise – to emerge glistening from the water.
+ Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, 2001
Movie: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, 2001
Location: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Props: Cargo pants, water canteen, army boots
Recreate the scene: Cambodian nationals – unsurprisingly – weren’t overjoyed to see acts of violence staged in their revered UNESCO World Heritage Site, so when you visit Angkor, shoot at the temples with your camera only. Head to Angkor Thom, and explore the ruins as Lara Croft the intrepid archaeologist would, ever on a quest to unlock the lost secrets of ancient civilizations.
Between shoots: Sample local fare (such as snake and frog), pay a humanitarian visit to a local orphanage or monastery and cruise past the fishing villages on Tonle Sap lake. For something more classically Tomb Raider, visit a local firing range to indulge your AK-47 fantasies.
+ Lost in Translation, 2003
Movie: Lost in Translation, 2003
Location: Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
Props: An unrequited love interest, several hundred Japanese locals
Recreate the scene: Stride through Shibuya in tears and wait for your love interest to catch up with you. Embrace, murmur something inaudible yet deeply profound, kiss briefly then go your separate ways forever.
Between shoots: Shop at Shibuya 109, hit the karaoke bars, cook your own shabu shabu, slurp ramen noisily, lose hours (and yen) playing pachinko, go to the BIC camera electronics stores on every corner, hang out at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar for jazz and cocktails and dodge salarymen on Japan’s most filmed – and busiest – pedestrian crossing, Shibuya Square.
+ In The Mood For Love, 2000
Movie: In The Mood For Love, 2000
Props: Several cheongsams (traditional Chinese dresses), a devastatingly handsome/beautiful object of desire
Recreate the scene: Walk the hallways of a dimly lit 1960s hotel and head down quiet back alleys looking forlorn and heart-broken, repeatedly bumping into your love interest, who is also walking around looking morose. Take a black taxi to a restaurant together without speaking a word.
Between shoots: This film took 15 months to shoot across Macau, Bangkok and Angkor Wat, but you won’t have that much time, so for instant romance, wander Macau’s historic Portuguese quarter in your finest cheongsam then head to Fat Siu Lau restaurant to sample its famous roasted pigeon.
+ Indochine, 1992
Movie: Indochine, 1992
Location: Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang, Malaysia
Props: 1930s period clothes, record player
Recreate the scene: Indochine is set in Vietnam, but was shot in Penang, mostly inside the Vogue-approved Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – the Blue Mansion. At dinnertime, dance the tango with a friend as 1930s music crackles on the turntable.
Between shoots: One of Penang’s main draws is its cuisine – Indian, Chinese and Malay are all available cheaply from street hawkers and all-night eateries. CFTM is one of the most photographed hotels in South East Asia – all romance and antique Chinoiserie – take pictures, read books, listen to records or just recline with melodramatic style on a chaise longue and absorb the ambience.
+ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000
Movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000
Location: Jiuxiang Scenic Resort, Kunming, China
Props: Assassin’s mask, antidote for poison dart, if available.
Recreate the scene: Travel insurance probably doesn’t cover any self-inflicted harm befalling those attempting to recreate any of Crouching Tiger’s scenes, so it’s probably best to make do with enjoying the scenery. Wear a kung fu outfit and profess your undying love to someone while choking out your last mortal breaths if it makes the experience more authentic for you.
Between shoots: Jiuxoiang is a national park with dramatic limestone karst formations, caves, cliffs and rivers. Visitors can kayak through canyons, visit local Yi and Hui communities and witness the wonders of geology unique to this part of the world.
+ Bangkok Dangerous, 2008
Movie: Bangkok Dangerous, 2008
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Props: Hawaiian shirt, bad hair, likeable side kick
Recreate the scene: Enter a pharmacy somewhere around Silom Road and attempt to communicate your ailment using only sign language – something many a visitor to Thailand has probably had to do. Then head to Soi Cowboy in a scene recreated by millions of tourists every year, and gawp at the flashing neon signs and scantily-clad go-go dancers.
Between shots: If you visit around the Thai New Year – Songkran (13-15 April) – you can safely wear your Hawaiian shirt the entire time while engaging in ‘water play’ – drenching everyone within range of a super-soaker (it’s good luck!).
+ Drunken Master, 1978
Movie: Drunken Master, 1978
Location: Hong Kong
Props: White T-shirt, black pants, white socks and kung fu slippers
Recreate the scene: Challenge the baddest kung fu guy in the city to a fight – and lose. Get more training from your drunken master, re-challenge and win.
Between shoots: In the spirit of doing things as low-budget as this film (if that’s even possible), do Hong Kong the cheap way: catch the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, stroll through Mongkok for street food, browse the Ladies’ Market and go up the cable car on Lantau Island to visit Po Lin Monastery and the Giant Buddha.
+ Seven Samurai, 1954
Movie: Seven Samurai, 1954
Location: Izu National Park, Shizuoka, Japan
Props: Samurai swords (fallen branches should suffice), fake moustaches, six brave friends
Recreate the scene: Find a densely forested part of hiking trail within the park, wait for some tourists to approach, then ambush. Or just enjoy the scenery with your mates – this is one of the most beautiful – and visited – parks in Japan, drawing more than 100 million tourists a year.
Between shoots: The Atami hot springs, white and black sand beaches and exploring Izu Islands (Izu Oshima island is where the creepy cabin scenes in the Japanese horror flick Ringu were filmed) should keep you occupied between takes.
+ Raise The Red Lantern,1991
Movie: Raise The Red Lantern,1991
Location: Qiao’s Compound, Pingyao, Shaxi, China
Props: Anything red and Chinese-looking, a paper lantern
Recreate the scene: This film is all about Chinese concubines in the 1920s so it’s therefore difficult to recreate a scene here without offending some of the Qiao Compound’s other visitors. Simply getting out your red lantern and raising it should be enough.
Between shoots: The historic and beautiful Qiao Compound lies just outside the equally stunning and ancient UNESCO-listed city of Ping Yao in Shanxi province. The massive city walls were built in 1370 and measure 12 meters high with 72 watchtowers – more epic than all of Kurosawa’s films put together.
By Bek van Vliet