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Ambition and History Meet in China's Hollywood

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Ambition and History Meet in China's Hollywood

World

Ambition and History Meet in China's Hollywood

Ambition and History Meet in China's Hollywood

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12741465/12752976" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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More on Hengdian

The size of Paramount and Universal Studios combined, Hengdian in southern China is the world's largest film studio.

In just 10 years, Hengdian has transformed itself from a poverty-stricken farming village to a collection of replica palaces, temples and historical streets, open to film crews, often for free.

A life-size reproduction of Beijing's Forbidden City — home to China's emperors — is just one of Hengdian's 18 sets. TV series, commercials and some of China's most famous movies — such as Zhang Yimou's Hero and Chen Kaige's The Promise — have been filmed there.

And the list of international movies shot at Hengdian will soon include The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third installment of the Hollywood blockbuster series.

Hengdian also owes its success in part to the low cost of labor there. Extras, for example, make $2.50 a day, working as many as 20 hours per day.

The Hengdian studio generated about $50 million last year. Nearly 90 percent of that came from the 3 million tourists, most of them Chinese, who visit the studio.

In China — where old buildings are torn down in the blink of an eye — many visitors say they haven't come for the movie glamour, but to learn about their country's past — from the fake buildings.

In many ways, Hengdian encapsulates modern China in its breathtaking scale, the amazing speed of its development and its armies of low-cost labor.

It has transformed life in the surrounding area, allowing subsistence farmers to run shops, restaurants and hotels. Hengdian is symbolic, too, for its ambition.

Officials at the studio say they believe the film sets will be historical treasures. And watching the pleasure the tourists take in the empty shells of these replica buildings, that doesn't seem so far-fetched.

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