MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
We learned about Hengdian, or Chinawood, on the program yesterday. It's the largest film studios in the world. Today, NPR's Louisa Lim reports on what it's like to work there, from the perspective of two of China's top film stars. And she assures us kung fu fans will not be disappointed.
(Soundbite of drums)
LOUISA LIM: This is a really surreal feeling. I'm standing inside a life-size replica of a Qin Dynasty palace, supposedly home to China's empress 2,000 years ago. I can hear the drums of war in the background. I'm surrounded by perspiring extras dressed as Qin Dynasty soldiers in heavy armor. And to my left is a group of nobles wearing gray flowing robes with their hair in topknots. And I'm just standing by the set of the long-awaited martial art film starring those two giants of kung fu - Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
Mr. CASEY SILVER (Producer, "The Forbidden Kingdom"): We're making a movie that is a collaboration of Chinese history, Chinese popular culture, Chinese cinema, and Chinese mythology.
LIM: American producer Casey Silver at a rain-soaked press conference introducing "The Forbidden Kingdom," an $80-million movie. Director Rob Minkoff, who's most famous for "The Lion King," weighs up the pros and cons of working in Hengdian studios.
Mr. ROB MINKOFF (Director, "The Forbidden Kingdom"): There's a tremendous experience and talents available to do many of the things necessary to create a film. Obviously, hundreds and hundreds of people are required to do everything, you know, from building the sets. So many, many skills, many craftsmen are used, and so all of that was available to us here. The only disadvantage I can think of about Hengdian is that there's no Starbucks.
(Soundbite of people shouting)
LIM: Despite the lack of coffee and ever-present fans and photographers, the film star Jackie Chan is clear about the attractions of shooting in China. His thoughts can be pretty much summed up by: it's the economy, stupid.
Mr. JACKIE CHAN (Actor): This way, American production - they have to move the whole production in China for - right now. For the future, they would do the same thing. Why? Because you spend 80 million in China compared to U.S. you have to spend, like, 200 million. So that's the difference.
LIM: And in the high-octane world of kung fu, China has other attractions. There's no security captain on site monitoring the safety of the fight scenes. That makes things easier, says Jackie Chan, who does most of his own stunts no matter how risky.
His fighting technique and temperament differ famously from his co-star, Jet Li. And this movie marks their first on-screen encounter.
Mr. JET LI (Actor): (Through translator) We've wanted to work together for more than 15 years. If we don't work together soon, our combined age will hit a 100 years old.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LIM: The clock certainly ticking for these grand old masters of kung fu. Their combined total is already 97 years old.
(Soundbite of fight scene shoot)
LIM: Jet Li is a former national martial arts champion, famous for his classical technique, his speed, his reserved character, and his killer instinct. He's universally known on set as The Boss, while Jackie Chan's nickname is Big Brother. So how's the chemistry between The Boss and the Big Brother?
Mr. LI: (Through translator) Very interesting. All day long, Jackie talks about fighting, fighting, fighting. I talk about everything but fighting.
LIM: Jackie Chan's trademark is his ingenious improvisational use of props, his acrobatics, his sense of humor, and his open nature. He says it's been decades since he's fought like he does on screen with Jet Li.
Mr. CHAN: (Through translator) Fighting with Jet Li is incredibly fast. It's so fast that everybody on set complains that was too fast. Can you do it again a bit more slowly?
(Soundbite of fight scene shoot)
LIM: With its martial arts magic and Chinese stars, this film's aim is to bring Chinese culture to Hollywood. Yet the bosses of this Chinese tinseltown are actually hoping for the opposite, that this movie will bring Hollywood all the way to the studios at Hengdian.
Louisa Lim, NPR News.