China: The Movie City
Exploring China’s Past at Liangjiang International Movie City
By Donnie Sexton
If you could rate a hotel room by the “wow” factor using exclamation points, the Longxing Hotel, near Chongqing, China would merit at least 10.
I opened my door to find an elegantly furnished suite with two bathrooms and a living room, decked out in period antiques. My bedroom opened onto a sizable deck that overlooked a movie studio. Best of all was a free-standing shimmering white tub that was calling out my name.
The hotel is one of four properties woven into the Liangjiang International Movie City which opened in December 2016.
Movie City is a re-creation of Chongqing when it served as the wartime capital of China during the War of Resistance against the Japanese (1937-45).
The complex not only serves as a studio for film and television productions, but it’s becoming a popular tourist attraction.
To date, 5 million visitors have walked the streets of Movie City, delighting in the shopping, eateries, entertainment, and accommodations. Various plays, re-enactments, and festivals take place within Movie City during the year.
Chongqing isn’t likely on the radar of first-time visitors to China. But once the Great Wall and a visit to a panda reserve have been checked off your bucket list, Chongqing should be a consideration.
Located in midwest China, the city is home to 8 million people and straddles the Jialing and Yangtze rivers.
Chongqing is surrounded by remarkable national forest parks, a plethora of hot springs, and serves as the stepping stone to cruises on the Yangtze River.
This is China’s fastest growing city, and one would be hard pressed to find anything “quaint” among the maze of high-rise apartment buildings and upscale shopping.
Understanding China’s History
To get a sense of the role Chongqing has played in China’s history, a visit to Liangjiang International Movie City is just the ticket. Chiang Kai-shek would establish Chongqing as the Capital of China in 1937. There would be an influx of bankers, businessmen, scholars, diplomats and social elites that would follow.
The Soviet Union would set up an embassy in Chongqing, followed by some 30 other countries, including the US. It’s this fascinating history that comes to life in the re-created buildings and reenactors that roam about in Movie City.
Movie City features over 220 historical buildings, along with some riverside neighborhoods featuring wooden houses and docks, reminiscent of life back in the 1930-40s. Some of the cafes offer authentic food and drinks from this same era.
To date, the most famous movie made here is Back to 1942, a Chinese historical film directed by Feng Xiaogang.
Origins of Hot Pot
It was in Movie City that our band of travelers would experience the legendary “Hot Pot” lunch. Our local guide shared with us the history of Hot Pot, which dates back over a thousand years. The poorest of the region would boil up a very spicy broth to cook up offal for their sustenance.
By definition, offal is the discarded internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. It has to this day become a trademark of the Chongqing region. When I say SPICY broth, I mean both “hot” in temperature and “hot” with mouth-numbing spices.
Challenges of Hot Pot
I had read about hot pot before my trip and figured this would be a challenge for me, as my mouth doesn’t like hot and spicy food. In the sense of being adventurous, I had determined I would give it a try. The room set aside for our group at one of Movie City’s eateries had a table with two bubbling bowls of fiery broth surrounded by platters of unidentifiable “stuff.”
I found myself staring at a plate of raw chicken feet. Other options for dipping into the boiling broth included fish balls, tongue slices, and duck intestines sliced thin and almost transparent in color. But it was the two heaping platters of tripe, appearing like ghoulish gray squares of textured leather, which did me in.
I felt myself fighting back the urge to throw up, and instead imagined the future when I could bite into a McDonald’s hamburger. I opted for some pumpkin patties, lotus slices, and rice, while I reminded myself that my adventurous spirit stops short when it comes to what I eat.
Exploring in the Rain
Despite the rainy morning, it was delightful to explore the streets of Liangjiang International Movie City and get a sense of this critical slice of China’s history. It’s possible to rent costumes for the day to wander the streets.
This appeared to be popular with the locals, as many were dressed as policemen, soldiers, and their “special” ladies, some as movie stars.
One could only smile at the number of selfies they were taking. There was also a cast of characters, including Chiang Kai-shek roaming about, adding a human element to this movie complex.
Off the Beaten Path
Liangjiang International Movie City is a bit off the beaten path, so it’s best to reach the complex via taxi. It’s about an hour’s drive from the city of Chongqing, but close to the airport, so it can be a great choice to fill part of the day before flying out of Chongqing.
While English is not readily spoken in the Chongqing region, there is enough staff that can communicate to help you get the most out of Movie City. If you go, once inside the complex, ask for a printed guide in English.
After a restful night in Movie City, I was reluctant to leave my chic suite, especially knowing I had the challenges of a rainy day ahead. It was easy to let my mind wander to a time where this same bed I had slept in might have been or will be used for some hot tryst in a movie scene. This kind of “hot” would be much more palatable than that of the “hot pot” lunch.