Asia

Asian countries are vying to win over international filmmakers with expanded facilities and enhanced incentives.

In Asia, Thailand boasts the longest history as an international film hub, which can be traced back to the 1970s with The Man With The Golden Gun and The Deer Hunter. For decades, the country has attracted plenty of big-budget foreign productions due to its lower production costs, professional crew, sound infrastructure and varied locations from pristine beaches and dense jungles to unique cityscapes. The versatile country has often doubled for tropical Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as for colonial China (as featured in Shanghai) and ancient India (Alexander). Recent productions The Hangover Part II, Only God Forgives, Attrition and A Prayer Before Dawn have all filmed Thailand as Thailand, as have Chinese box-office hits Lost In Thailand and Detective China­town. But until now the lack of major incentives has placed the country at a disadvantage over territories with more attractive packages such as Australia, Fiji and, recently, Malaysia.

Thailand finally introduced a 15% cash-rebate scheme in early 2017 after years of planning. This incentive now puts Thailand in direct competition with neighbouring Malaysia.

Multicultural Malaysia, whose large Muslim population lives alongside Chinese and Indian communities, has always been overshadowed by Thailand.

Hit comedy/drama movie Crazy Rich Asians doubled several key Malaysian locations for Singapore, and even for US scenes. Parts of capital Kuala Lumpur stood in for New York, where the film’s story starts, and the city’s airport doubled for New York’s JFK. The sprawling luxury estate belonging to the movie’s super-rich Young family, was created by combining a pair of mansions in Perdana Botanical Gardens, also in Kuala Lumpur.

Both mansions were originally residences of the British High Commissioner in Malaya in the early 1900s. They eventually found second lives as hotels but had been closed by the time the Crazy Rich Asians production team discovered them. Both properties were extensively renovated for the shoot, with one building used for exterior shots and the other decorated for interior scenes.

The interiors were dressed in a Peranakan style, a distinct cultural hybrid that has evolved from a mix of Southeast Asian and European influences. Everything about the building was augmented and altered for the Crazy Rich Asians shoot, from the paint scheme and carpeting through to wallpapering. A herringbone parquet floor found beneath the floorboards was carefully restored for the shoot as a fortuitous discovery that could reflect the personality of the family.

Other international projects have been few and far between — Anna And The King and Entrapment from the 1990s were among the few high-profile ones. More recently, Hong Kong director Dante Lam’s The Viral Factor was filmed primarily in the capital Kuala Lumpur, while Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution filmed some old Hong Kong scenes in Ipoh and Michael Mann’s Blackhat featured a few local scenes.

Since 2013, the country has been trying to position itself as Asia’s next filming hotspot. That was the year it launched the Film In Malaysia Incentive (FIMI), which offers a 30% cash rebate for feature films that spend at least $1.4m locally and TV series that spend at least $50,000 per broadcast hour. Pinewood opened its first Asian outpost, the world-class Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, in 2014.

According to the National Film Development Corporation (Finas), Malaysia has attracted 34 foreign productions since 2013, including Netflix’s original series Marco Polo, BBC drama Our Girl, Cartoon Network’s Mighty Magiswords and Warner Bros’ Crazy Rich Asians.

Outside Southeast Asia, Taiwan jumped into the fray when Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Life Of Pi brought it global exposure. Soon after, the country received further boosts from Luc Besson’s Lucy, John Woo’s The Crossing and Martin Scorsese’s Silence.

With most of the story taking place at sea, the VFX-laden Life Of Pi was filmed in Taichung City, which built giant wave tanks at a former airport as its primary set. Now the same wave pool, equipped with 12 150-hp vacuum wavemakers in seven speeds, has become part of Central Motion Picture Corp’s (CMPC) new Central Taiwan Film Studios. Located in Taichung City on more than three hectares, the facility also consists of three 16-metre-high sound stages — the largest in Taiwan — a seven-metre deep pool and a 1.1-hectare back lot for outdoor filming.

Down south, Taiwan’s second largest city Kaohsiung is fast emerging as a filming location. Japanese director Sabu’s 2017 Berlin Competition title Mr Long is the first international co-production backed by Kaohsiung Film Fund, which invests up to 10% of the approved production budget. The film prominently featured Kaohsiung locations in its first 10 minutes.

The capital Taipei continues to lure international filmmakers through Taipei City Government’s investment of up to $2m per year in international shoots. It has recently hosted Jackie Chan’s Bleeding Steel and HBO Asia’s Mandarin-language series The Teenage Psychic, as well as Netflix’s original series A Taiwanese Tale Of Two Cities by local director Nelson Yeh.

In north-east Asia, South Korea strives to be a leader in location filming. Its natural diversity ranges from mountains, coasts and volcanic islands to ultra-modern cityscapes. Thanks to the thriving local film industry, which churns out more than 200 releases a year, there is an abundance of professional crews and technicians.

In 2017, 30 international productions were filmed in the country with support from regional film commissions. Ryan Coogler, director of The Walt Disney Company and Marvel’s Black Panther, chose Busan as the setting for his film’s car chase because of the city’s night vistas and the traditional Asian look of the food markets. Further productions included scenes for Universal’s Pacific Rim Uprising, and the second series of French TV show T.A.N.K.

Neighbouring China does not fare as well, with little international location shooting, mainly because of the lack of incentives and of English-speaking crew. That Pacific Rim: Uprising and The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, were both filmed at Wanda Qingdao Studios is an exception rather than the norm.

Even though Japan still lacks nationwide filming incentives, the country nonetheless retains its international appeal.

Capital city Tokyo is world-renowned as an iconic modern metropolis. The city has had a varied history after being shaped by a tumultuous 20th century including an earthquake in 1923 and air raids during the Second World War. Tokyo has an impressive blend of historical and contemporary architecture, meaning the city stands out internationally as a thriving and attractive statement of modernity.

Tokyo’s best-known landmarks include the Tokyo International Forum that was opened in 1996, the distinctive Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower that was completed in 2008 and bears a resemblance to London’s Gherkin building, and the Rainbow Bridge, a 798-metre-long suspension bridge that dates back to 1993 and crosses northern Tokyo Bay.

Tokyo Location Box is the film commission representing the interests of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and co-ordinates local production requests with nearly two dozen district film commissions located throughout the city.

Geographically, much of the country is forested and, as it lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are more than 100 active volcanoes. Japan also comprises nearly 6,900 separate islands.

The country is working to boost Tokyo’s existing profile as a film-friendly city, building on its continuing success in attracting productions from across Southeast Asia. Producers from South Korea, China and Taiwan frequently shoot in the country, the Japan Film Commission tells World Of Locations. There has also been an increase in shoots from Thailand and Singapore.

Japan does offer studio facilities that are generally used more by local producers. The country’s authorities are also working to broaden their appeal to international shoots.

Vietnam received a recent production profile boost after hosting several weeks of filming for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ monster movie Kong: Skull Island, which became the largest international movie to ever shoot in the country. The film used rural locations across Vietnam as stand-ins for the eponymous setting of Skull Island, and the shoot was supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism.

Ilt Jones, supervising location manager on Kong, praised the hospitable attitude of the Vietnamese people and advised international producers to work with local service companies, as Vietnam’s production infrastructure is far less developed outside the major cities.

International TV shows such as The Bachelor and Cities Of The Underworld have filmed in the city of Hue in the centre of the country, while the discovery of the huge Son Doong Cave attracted the attention of foreign documentary crews.

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the country’s most iconic locations and routinely appears in international cookery shows. The delta spans some 15,600 square miles and is rich in wildlife.

Situated in the north, capital Hanoi is home to 8 million people. Its architecture is a patchwork of cross-cultural influences as a result of Vietnam’s colonial history. The city’s Old Quarter sits alongside buildings that reflect the legacy of French rule, which left its mark on the city from the time that the French took control of Hanoi in the late 1880s.

India has a rich assortment of bustling cities and exotic locations, ranging from the Himalayas in the far north to the internationally iconic vistas of the Ganges river and the Taj Mahal.

As a result, the country has much to offer producers and already has one of the world’s largest local film industries. International shoots are less frequent but planned upcoming productions include movie thriller Dhaka, which is set to feature Thor star Chris Hemsworth in the story of a mercenary hired to track down an Indian boy kidnapped and held somewhere in the Bangladeshi capital.

In the latter half of 2018, India also played host to Beecham House, a co-production with the UK made by filmmaker Gurinder Chadha. The six-part TV series is set at the turn of the 19th century and follows a former British soldier as he starts a new life in Delhi. Another UK-India co-production, an adaptation of MM Kaye’s 1978 novel The Far Pavilions, is also planning to film on location in the country during 2019. The story is set against the backdrop of the British Raj and follows a British man who is raised as a Hindu.

High-profile productions to shoot in India recently include Garth Davis’s Lion, which filmed in Kolkata and was nominated for six Academy Awards.

Sri Lanka is an island nation — officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka — that lies off the south-east coast of India and a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Mumbai. Producers will find a warm, tropical climate and coastal areas boasting abundant coral reefs. The island is renowned for its 17,000 acres of mangroves and its dozens of lagoons and estuaries. Life in Sri Lanka was long defined by a 25-year civil war but this finally came to an end about 10 years ago, and the island has the potential to establish itself as a sought-after filming location in the Indian Ocean.

The Lowdown – Thailand

Financial incentives

An incentive programme offers 15%-20% cash rebate to international productions with a valid film permit issued by Thailand Film Office. Local spending on Thai registered businesses and other Thai services and individuals must be more than $1.6m (baht50m).

Full details on financial incentives in Thailand: Thailand Film Office

Infrastructure and crews

Although most foreign productions are attracted to Thailand for its exterior locations, the country has seen the number of world-class studio facilities rise in recent years. The Studio Park, which opened last July, is the country’s first fully integrated studio that meets international standards. Its 2,400 square metre sound stage is Thailand’s biggest. Thanks to its vibrant film and TV industry, Thailand has no shortage of talents. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom was the cinematographer of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.

Size matters

Thailand is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia and well connected with the rest of the world. In 2017, its six major international airports provided more than 820,000 flights for more than 129 million passengers. The country also has a sophisticated network of rail, boat and road systems.

First person to contact

Sirinart Theenanondh, Thailand Film Office: film@thailandfilmoffice.org

The Lowdown – Malaysia

Financial incentives

The Film In Malaysia Incentive (FIMI) is a 30% cash rebate for feature films that spend at least $1.4m locally and TV series that spend at least $50,000 per broadcast hour. At least 30% of the crew must be hired locally.

Full details on financial incentives in Malaysia: National Film Development Corporation Malaysia

Infrastructure and crews

Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios is one of Asia’s biggest studios. The facility consists of two 12,000 square foot TV studios and five sound stages with interior tanks on a total area of 100,000 square feet. The site also houses exterior water tanks, back lots (including natural forest), and editing and post-production facilities. Most local crew speak both English and Chinese.

Size matters

Malaysia has two major regions: Peninsular Malaysia, which is south of Thailand and north of Singapore, and East Malaysia, which shares borders with Brunei and Indonesia on Borneo Island. Located in the southern Johor state near the border, Pinewood Malaysia is just a 45-minute drive from neighbouring Singapore and is within five hours’ flight time of most Asian cities.

First person to contact

Zokifli Abu Bakar, Film In Malaysia Incentive: zokifli@finas.my

The Lowdown – South Korea

Financial incentives

The Korean Film Council (Kofic) offers a 20%-25% cash rebate for international shoots. Those that film 10 or more days and spend $2m (won2bn) or more can apply for a 25% rebate, while those that shoot three or more days and spend $100,000-$2m (won100m-won2bn) can apply for 20%. Kofic’s rebate can be used with other cash incentives and in-kind support from 12 regional
film commissions.

Full details on financial incentives in South Korea: www.filmkorea.or.kr

Infrastructure and crews

South Korea’s thriving local film industry has produced a pool of experienced crews and sound infrastructure along with co-operative film commissions. The country is particularly strong in VFX post-production, often securing sophisticated jobs from Asia and beyond. English is not spoken widely, but English-speaking co-ordinators and translators are available.

Size matters

South Korea is located in north-east Asia, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. The capital, Seoul, runs an efficient public transport system for its 10 million-plus inhabitants. Other popular filming locations are Busan on the south-eastern coast, port city Incheon and Jeju island.

First person to contact

Sumin Seo, Korea Film Commissions & Industry Network: cinemagirl5@gmail.com

The Lowdown – Taiwan

Financial incentives

Incentives to attract international productions can be found at city rather than state level. Taipei City Government invests up to $2m per year in international shoots in the city, whereas Kaohsiung Film Fund, an initiative of Kaohsiung City Government, invests up to 10% of a production’s budget if it is an official co-production with a Taiwanese company.

Full details on financial incentives in Taiwan: Taipei Film Commission and Film Kaohsiung

Infrastructure and crews

Unlike Taipei, which has studios including CMPC and Arrow Cinematic Group, and Taichung with a soon-to-open new facility, Kaohsiung concentrates on its outdoor locations given its abundant sunshine with more than 2,200 hours a year. Key local crew for Martin Scorsese’s Silence included production and costume designer Huang Wen-ying, a three-time Golden Horse Award winner.

Size matters

A high-speed rail network connects major cities along the west coast from Taipei on the northern tip of the island to Taichung in the west and Kaohsiung in the south west, covering a total of 345 kilometres in about 1.5 hours. All three cities have their own international airports and most of the popular filming locations are within a 30-45 minute drive from their downtown areas.

First people to contact

Ming Lin, Taichung Film Industry Development Foundation: mingying@tfdf.org.tw

Tu Jui Lin, Film Development and Production Center, Kaohsiung: tfac.kcg@gmail.com

Taipei Film Commission: service@taipeifilmcommission.org

The Lowdown – Japan

Financial incentives

Japan does not yet offer any formal incentive support.

Infrastructure and crews

Japan Film Commission offers support for local production logistics and co-ordinates with a network of 120 regional film offices, including a multitude of organisations in Tokyo. The capital’s Tokyo Location Box is the official filming commission of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and co-ordinates with nearly two dozen local offices throughout the city to facilitate production requests and ease the filming process.

Size matters

Japan is an international transport hub, with nearly 180 airports and a vast rail and road network.

First person to contact

The Japan Film Commission: Japan Film Commission on +81 3 5643-5330 or jfc@japanfc.org

The Lowdown – Vietnam

Financial incentives

Vietnam does not yet offer any formal incentive support.

Infrastructure and crews

Vietnam does not yet offer any studio facilities. The country offers a small crew pool but international producers usually fly in their own people of supplement their team with crews from nearby Bangkok or Hong Kong.

Size matters

The international gateway to Vietnam is by air through Ho Chi Minh City, but Da Nang and Hanoi also have international airports. A railway connects Hon Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and the country also has an extensive road network.

First person to contact

Cong Chi Duong of Good Sunday Films: chicong@goodsundayfilms.com

The Lowdown – India

Financial incentives

India does not yet offer any formal incentive support.

Infrastructure and crews

India has an expansive film and TV production network that supports its own domestic screen sector, but when international producers do shoot in the country they generally come for the iconic locations.

Size matters

India spans 1.2 million square miles and is accessible from travel hubs around the world. A network of trains, boats and buses facilitates travel around the country, as well as domestic air services.

First entity to contact

The Film Facilitation Office: ffo@nfdcindia.com

The Lowdown – Sri Lanka

Financial incentives

Sri Lanka does not yet offer any formal incentive support.

Infrastructure and crews

Sri Lanka offers experienced production crews and film equipment can be hired locally.

Size matters

The country is accessible via direct flights to the commercial capital Colombo, and via stopover journeys. Spanning just over 25,300 square miles, domestic travel in Sri Lanka is by road or rail.

First person to contact

Shyaman Premasundara, Managing Director of Frames TV & Film Production Services: shyaman@frames.lk or frames.shyaman@gmail.com

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