Explore China Through World of Cinema

The Painted Veil

A Visit to China Through Cinema Right in Your Own Home.

By Daniela Kisinovsky

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped all travel and made it harder to work on our travel plans. For us, the wanderlusters that live off the thrill of traveling, that is proving hard to cope with. So now that all of that has been halted, how do you satisfy your thirst for foreign landscapes and different cultures?

Myself, I have embarked on a journey through films that transport you to another place, another time, another culture, letting you travel without leaving your living room.

Since China was the destination I was planning on going to this year I immersed myself in Chinese films. Find here a list of movies that will keep you going and perhaps trigger some ideas for your next trip to this beautiful country:

Hero (2002)


This epic martial arts movie directed by Zhang Yimou is a beautiful piece of art.

The story is set in Ancient China where the King of Qin is undertaking a bloody campaign to conquer and unify the other six kingdoms, making him the target of many dangerous assassins.

When the news that a Hero has killed all the assassins gets to the King, he summons him to tell the tale of his accomplishments. Each flashback will be set in a color-coded sequence that will share a side of the story.

Many scenes were shot in Hengdian World Studios, the largest outdoor film studio in the world located in Hengdian, located a couple of hours west of Shanghai, Zhejiang Province.


This studio, created in the mid-90s, has a scale replica of Beijing’s Forbidden City and a lot of other buildings such as the Imperial Palace Building, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Street areas, Emperor Qin Palace, Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Old Summer Palace, among others.

Hengdian World Studios also works as a theme park and can be visited with one, two, and three-day tickets.

But, of course, not everything was filmed at this incredible studio, you can also see scenes at different locations. For example, the calligraphy school scene was filmed at the Dangjin Mountain, in Aksai, in northwest China.

The dream-like fight above the lake was shot at Jiuzhaigou, in the Min Shan mountain range. This nature reserve features an amazing compound of lakes and waterfalls about 320 kilometers north of Chengdu, in the southwest province of Sichuan. 

Also in Sichuan province, you can see the 30-meter high Nuorilang Falls where the green sequence was filmed.


Part of the red sequence, where the leaves turn from golden to red during the fight scene, was shot is an ancient oak wood in Inner Mongolia.

It was so important to get the color of leaves right that the production staged one person from the crew there, so as to know exactly when to go and shoot the scenes.

Immerse yourself in this world of color and breath-taking landscapes to get to know a little bit of the amazing locations and get some ideas for your next trip. 

The Painted Veil (2006)

The Painted Veil

Naomi Watts and Edward Norton lead this film, directed by John Curran.

The loveless marriage of a bacteriologist doctor and a vain socialite from London is further put to the test when they go to a small Chinese village to fight a cholera epidemic.

Part of the movie was filmed in Shanghai, not only for the Shanghai settings but also for the London scenes! But most of the film was done in Huangyao Ancient Town, in Guangxi Zhuang, southeast China. This town dates back a thousand years old with buildings built during the Qing Dynasty. You can see over 30 temples, pavilions, and halls, all surrounded by karst peaks and streams. 

Although perhaps it’s not the most cheerful movie, it’s definitely a great film with lots of amazing views of this lovely town. 

The Last Emperor (1987)

The Last Emperor

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, this film tells the story of the last emperor of China from his childhood to his imprisonment by the Communist Party of China.

This movie won 9 Oscar awards and it was the first Western film ever to be authorized by the People’s Republic of China to film in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

In this amazing location, you get to see The Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Courtyard of Supreme Harmony.

But other Chinese settings were also used in the filming of this movie. The lakeside scene was shot 12 kilometers northwest of Beijing at Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace.

The Last Emperor

The Manchurian scenes were filmed in the railway station and Manchukuo Palace of Jilin Province’s capital, Changchun, located in northeast China. 

Other scenes feature the port of Dalian, in the south Liaoning Province, northeast China, dubbed ‘the Hong Kong of the North’, and the colonial buildings of Dalian’s Zhongshan Square.

Enjoy this visual feast while learning a little bit about China’s history.

Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles (2005)

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Another great movie directed by Zhang Yimou for this list, full of beautiful landscapes. 

The story is about Takata Gou-ichi, a Japanese fisherman who, after learning his son is gravely ill, embarks on a journey through to Yunnan province in China to complete his son’s documentary about the Chinese opera after which the movie is named “Riding alone for thousands of miles”.

The movie was indeed filmed in Lijian ancient town, located in Yunnan province, in Southeast China. This Unesco World Heritage Site dates back to the 13th century and it’s famous for its canals and picturesque bridges.

Different scenes such as the stone village and the final scenes will take you through amazing landscapes among the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

If you have visited China before and don’t speak mandarin, this movie will definitely take you back and empathize with the main character, who struggles to make himself understand as he tries to complete his journey.

Watch this movie and you will surely find the story as charming and moving as its incredible locations.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons (2000)

Cinema: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons

Directed by the famous filmmaker Ang Lee, this martial arts movie is set in the Qing Dynasty. After a warrior gives his sword to his friend to deliver for safekeeping, it gets stolen by a mysterious master of the martial arts.

A chase to find it begins to uncover the thief and return the sword to its rightful owner.

This movie had many scenes filmed in Hengdian outdoor studios but also had many scenes shot in locations.

The beginning of the movie as well as the Moon Pool scenes were filmed in Hongcun Zhen, in Anhui Province, 420 kilometers west of Shanghai. It’s characteristic of this town, built 900 years ago, the ponds and water channels that are almost everywhere. Declared a World Heritage Site, this ancient water town is definitely worth a visit where you can also enjoy the conical Yellow Mountain that surrounds it. Anhui Province is also home to the Mukeng Bamboo Forest where the treetop fight occurs.

Cinema: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons

More scenes were filmed in Chengde Summer Palace, in Hebei Province in northeast China. This location consists of a complex of imperial palaces and gardens, located 225 kilometers northeast of Beijing.

You can also get to see scenes shot in the magnificent Gobi Desert located in Xinjiang Province, in northwestern China. Also filmed in Xinjiang Province you can watch sequences on Karamay Ghost city, full of rock erosion formations among the sand, located 4 hours away by bus from Urumqi. 

Another location used for this movie is the Cangyan Mountain, In Hebei Province. You’ll get to see the stunning complex with its amazing Bridge-Tower Hall.

Mountain Patrol (2004)

Mountain Patrol

This National Geographic movie directed by Lu Chuan is the true story about volunteer vigilante rangers to protect the endangered Tibetan antelopes against bands of poachers in the severe mountains of Tibet.

The location where the film was shot gives its original name to the movie: “Kekexili” which means Blue ridge in Mongolian.

This is an isolated region in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau and the largest and highest plateau in the world with its 4,800 meters above sea level.

The images this movie portrays are just incredible, with majestic landscapes. You also get to see a bit of the Tibetan culture such as the famous Sky burial.

Due to this movie and public pressure, Kekexili was declared a “national nature preserve” and established a forestry bureau to protect it. Since then the Tibetan antelope numbers have increased.

Now that you have this list, get some popcorn, put on your pajamas, and begin your journey through China.

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