The line to enter the film studios begins to form at dawn. At dawn, there are enough people, most of them agricultural workers in the area, to fill four buses. Only a few dozen will be lucky and chosen as extras for the day of filming. There are some unconditional ones, always the first to arrive, who can be taken out an extra salary of up to 500 euros each month as extras in war films set in the Sino-Japanese War, romantic comedies in a futuristic setting or historical dramas in the old dynasties. All of this is recorded in a vast complex that occupies a total area of up to 330 hectares and which has around thirty outdoor filming bases and 130 indoor sets. It is the largest film studio in Asia.
In Hengdian World Studiosbuilt in the late 1990s on peasant land in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, more than 1,200 films have been shot. It features full-scale replicas of many palaces, imperial gardens and temples, including the Forbidden City in Beijing. But what is most impressive is the area where a decoration copied from one of the ancient capitals has been erected, Chang’anwith more than 1,000 buildings. It took 12 years to build it.
In addition to those who nudge each other at the door to be the first to enter the studio and be chosen as extras for one of the 25 movies that are being filmed right now, Hengdian is usually quite busy with tourists paying to do and tour inside a chinese hollywood which still doesn’t have the glamor or budget of its American counterpart.
“But the film production structures in China are modernizing. There is an increasingly better level and more resources. The Government is supporting the sector a lot“says Iván de Gracia, a Spanish actor who in China is known as Van de Grac, his artistic nickname. He is 53 years old and has been living in the southern city of Guangzhou for 18. He has had roles in several films and series, almost always doing villain. He knows the Hengdian studios well, where he recently filmed a series that has been one of the great audience hits in recent years, Crossing the Yalu Riverin which he plays an American general leading peace negotiations during the Korean War.
Hengdian, where international productions such as The Mummy: The Emperor’s TombDragon or the last live action of Mulan, began as the fetish setting for the ever-popular anti-Japanese war dramas, with communist soldiers massacring Japanese troops. The Chinese public, especially middle-aged and elderly, devour these ultra-patriotic war works. On the other hand, the youngest – who shape a generation that is equally nationalistic, but more cultured and traveled than that of their parents and grandparents – now demand other types of films, with current social plots and deeper characters. These are the ones that are succeeding now at the Chinese box office, which is experiencing its best moment.