Since the first Chinese film was shot in Beijing in 1905, the city has provided the setting for everything from Communist propaganda to Oscar-winning epics. Here are the city’s most famous film locations.
The former hoodlum hero of Guan Hu’s recently released film
is a lao
Beijinger through and through, spending his days wandering the hutongs
. When he butts heads with a younger generation of crooks, he challenges them to a showdown in the perfect spot: an abandoned, frozen lake behind the Summer Palace. The actual lake isn’t totally abandoned, but it does look pretty neglected, and it really is near the Summer Palace. It’s still frozen in February, so get your ice-top gangster showdown in now before spring arrives.
Beiwu Park, Yiheyuan Ximenwai, Haidian district.
2. In the Heat of the Sun
The city’s first Western restaurant.
The protagonists of Jiang Wen’s film are a group of privileged army kids wiling away the dog days of the Cultural Revolution in Beijing. Perhaps no setting better establishes their high position during that time of terror than the gang’s dinner at Moscow Restaurant. This grand hall was Beijing’s only foreign restaurant back in the day, and represented the first time many Beijingers had anything resembling a fancy Western meal. The place is still around, although the appeal is more nostalgic than culinary (that said, they do have rather legendary 10RMB vodka shots, which improves things).
3. The Last Emperor
The Forbidden City.
The first feature film to be shot in the Forbidden City and still the only one to have made extended use of it, The Last Emperor also came out right as China was opening up to the world in the ’80s. The Forbidden City might be an obvious destination, but it’s hard to overstate how big of a coup scoring this location was for director Bernardo Bertolucci, and what great use he made of it. The film won nine Oscars, including Best Picture. Get a very different view of the area by watching Zhang Yuan’s East Palace, West Palace, which centres around the gay cruising scene in the parks next to the Forbidden City.
4. Chung Kuo, Cina
The country’s seat of power: Zhongnanhai.
We’re not quite sure what the Chinese Government was thinking when it invited renowned Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni to shoot a documentary in China in 1972, but they were so displeased upon its release that they denounced the film and its director as anti-Chinese. Shooting in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, Antonioni was absurdly restricted in where he could film, but in an act of rebellion he did manage to sneak a shot of Xinhuamen, the entrance to Zhongnanhai (headquarters of the Communist Party). Today the gate is unchanged, and you can snap pictures to your heart’s content.
Xinhuamen, Xichang’an Jie, Xicheng district.
5. The World
Everyone’s favourite novelty attraction: Beijing World Park.
Jia Zhangke specialises in crafting analogies about the state of modern China, and in The World he found one hell of an analogy already made for him. At the actual Beijing World Park, where the film was shot, you can see all the world’s wonders… as miniature replicas. Working there is presented as a melancholy affair for the film’s characters, but wandering among the knock-offs can be its own kind of kitschy fun for visitors.
One of Beijing’s last bathhouses.
Shower is Zhang Yang’s heart-warming dramedy about trying to preserve the dwindling way of life that is Beijing’s bathhouses, so it’s only appropriate that it was shot in a public bathhouse now described as ‘Beijing’s last’. For around 10RMB, you can both get clean and experience an almost-gone part of Beijing culture, so long as you don’t mind same-sex nudity.
Shuangxingtang Public Bath House, 7 Dongerdaojie, Fengtai district.
7. The House That Never Dies
A haunted house in Chaoyangmen
Okay, we’re cheating a bit since the film wasn’t actually shot here, but the location’s just too good to resist. Raymond Yip’s domestic horror hit is based off this real-life location that’s supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Kuomintang official’s wife who committed suicide. The turn-of-the-century Western-style building saw hordes of visitors after the film’s release, but you’re likely to have it all to yourself again now. You can’t go inside the building, but even the exterior feels pretty damn spooky, even in daytime.
Chaonei No 81, 81 Chaoyangmennei Dajie, Dongcheng district
By Aaron Fox-Lerner