HENGDIAN, China — If you will make a film in China right now about historical warriors defending a legendary kingdom or a partisan resisting the Japanese occupation within the 1930s, or involving any variation of that staple of China’s leisure trade — the back-stabbing concubine drama — chances are high you will make it in Hengdian.
The metropolis is dwelling to Hengdian World Studios, which claims to be the world’s largest outside film and tv lot.
To name it a “lot” is an understatement. It is just not one lot, however 13 of them, scattered over 2,500 acres in and round what was as soon as a sleepy farming village nestled within the hills of Zhejiang Province, in central China.
There are different studios in China — Shanghai Film Park, for instance. Only in Hengdian, although, will you discover a trustworthy recreation of the palace of Qin Shi Huang, who dominated within the third century B.C. close to what’s right now often called Xian, or of the capital of the Northern Song dynasty, which reigned from the 10th to the 12th centuries.
There is even a Forbidden City that’s not solely startlingly real looking, but in addition solely just a little bit smaller than the actual factor in Beijing.
The one factor that may appear to be lacking from its enormous entrance gate is the of Mao Zedong — besides that the gate was constructed to look because it did through the Ming dynasty, not the later model recognized for the reason that 17th century as Tiananmen.
“These scenes today no longer exist,” stated Guo Huizhong, a director, as he filmed a warfare drama, whose title roughly interprets as “The Last Bodyguard,” inside a constructing reconstructed as an opera home from the primary half of the 20th century.
Moviemaking blurs the excellence between actuality and fantasy, and Hengdian World Studios arguably does that higher than some other place on Earth.
“This is where the empress committed suicide,” a studio assistant, Xu Hailei, defined as she guided an open cart by the fake Forbidden City, which, even up shut, is fairly convincing.
“She jumped from there,” she went on, describing a historic reality of 18th-century China — the loss of life of Empress Fucha — but in addition a pivotal scene in a single of essentially the most sensational dramas of the yr, a 70-episode epic, “The Story of Yanxi Palace.”
“Yanxi Palace” streamed on iQiyi, China’s model of Netflix, from July to August, and continues to take action in China and dozens of different international locations. It has been streamed 20 billion occasions, and its staggering recognition has influenced all the things from trend to the controversy over China’s struggling #MeToo marketing campaign.
It has additionally attracted extra guests to Hengdian, which distributes maps and postcards displaying the websites the place the sequence was filmed, together with the constructing of the title, which implies the Palace of Prolonged Happiness.
That is the place the concubines of the Qing dynasty emperors lived and conspired till the place burned down within the center of the 19th century. The one within the Forbidden City right now is a reconstruction from 1931.
Ye Yunfeng, 24, got here along with her boyfriend from Lishui, a metropolis not far to the south, as a result of she needed to see the corridor the place the emperor’s Grand Council met.
“The details of this show are very good,” she defined. “Many details, like the clothes, the headdresses and the backdrops, are in line with history.”
The serial’s creators, and its followers, judging from feedback posted on-line, credit score its success largely to the eye to historic element.
“The cost of actors and actresses are not expensive,” stated Yang Le, the chief government officer of Huanyu Film, the Beijing manufacturing firm that produced “Yanxi Palace.”
Instead, the producers spent their funds on artisanal embroiderers to recreate the clothes and flowered headdresses of the period — three,000 outfits, some of that are on show within the firm’s workplace in Beijing.
Yu Zheng, a screenwriter and producer of “Yanxi Palace,” stated he needed to convey a side of China’s “intangible cultural heritage” — mixed with “the pacing of an American television series.”
“People in our generation are all watching American and British television series,” stated Mr. Yu, who’s 40, “but actually there are many traditional cultures in China that are very worthy of being promoted to the world. We have a lot of beautiful things.”
That is the phantasm Hengdian World Studios was created to maintain.
The studio was based in 1996 by one of China’s first billionaires, Xu Wenrong. His Hengdian Group made a fortune in digital elements within the early years of the nation’s capitalist transition.
When an acquaintance wanted a location for a film, “The Opium War,” about China’s humiliating loss to Britain in the 19th century, Mr. Xu agreed to build one from scratch in the company’s hometown.
Since then more than 2,400 films and television series have been made at the studio, including 337 between January and October this year.
On a recent visit, there were 15 projects being shot at the same time, requiring studio organizers to juggle schedules and enforce deadlines.
There are 400 distinct spaces where filming can take place, covering the entire breadth of China’s history, its culture and its architecture.
Two areas recreate Guangzhou and Hong Kong as they looked in the 19th century, built for “The Opium War,” and another reproduces the Imperial Summer Palace, which was sacked by British and French soldiers in 1860. Its ruins are preserved in Beijing.
There is also a recreation of the Communist Party’s wartime base in Yan’an and a replica of a Buddhist temple whose original on a hill nearby has since been closed to the public.
“Many people learn history through television dramas,” said Zheng Junnan, a production assistant for another concubine melodrama set in the Qing dynasty.
“I don’t read books often,” he explained.
Mr. Zheng, like many in Hengdian, is a transient; he moved to Hengdian for the duration of shooting.
There is a sort of union hall in the town center where people play cards and shoot pool while waiting for the chance to get parts as extras. And epic battles need lots of extras.
Another lot, “The Exposition City of the Ming and Qing dynasties,” is a reconstruction of ancient buildings that were torn down in nearby parts of China and hauled to Hengdian.
There are scores of courtyard temples, houses and other structures, including a wooden tower from Nanjing. Each is marked with plaques describing their origins and “date of migration.”
Mr. Xu’s own collection of artifacts — vases, sculptures, precious stones and the like — are displayed in several of the 120 buildings in the complex, which includes a recreation of Nanjing’s riverfront.
The theater house where Mr. Guo was filming “The Last Bodyguard” was a reconstruction of an 18th-century building from Anhui Province, with the region’s distinctive southern architecture.
It wasn’t his first choice, he said, but other sets in the studio were already booked, so he made do, decorating the stage in the style of the 20th century, and bringing in opera singers from Beijing.
Yuxuan Honghao, a 26-year-old actor on the set of another series about concubines set in the Qing dynasty, said the attention to historic details had not always been a priority in the past but “The Story of Yanxi Palace” is already encouraging others to follow.
“The things in history books are one-side; they are only textual,” he said. “Films and television dramas can restore Chinese history as much as possible, and people can see what it was like.”