Jul 29, 2022
FROM ANCIENT JUNGLE-CLAD temples to swanky bars to splendid beaches, there’s no shortage of cinematic splendor in Asia. Until the metaverse takes over, it’s film that provides the next-most immersive experience to actually being there. So, we tallied up some classics, blockbusters and regional favorites and come up with this by no-means-comprehensive list of movie filming locations that have captured the beauty, history and culture of countries across Asia. Some are well-known (many since having been used as a backdrop), semi-secret, or simply hidden in plain sight. Consider this the trailers before your trip.
Cambodia: Siem Reap
From the time Angelina Jolie swung into frame from a vine at Ta Prohm, the ancient root-riddled city and temples of Angkor instantly saw a rapid increase in visitor numbers. The film Tomb Raider—based on the computer game of the same name, of which more than 75 million copies have been sold—ensured the beauty and history of this UNESCO site have made it to basically everyone in the world’s bucket list.
Reportedly, it cost Paramount Pictures US$10,000 per day to use the location. But for a temple that lay abandoned for 300 years (and provides a perfect example of what happens when you really let the garden go) is now being well restored and preserved, thanks to funds from the extra numbers through the gates.
South Korea: Busan
When Black Panther producer Ryan Coogler was searching for a unique nocturnal car-chase location, Busan was at the top of his list. “Because the action scene took place at night, there had to be a great night view and I also wanted to show a traditional side of the region,” he explained.
From vibrant traditional markets to neon-lit bridges, Busan is nothing if not visually arresting. The thrilling car chase scene begins at Jagalchi Market and passes through Gwangandaegyo Bridge to Haeundae.
Cape No. 7
Little known outside of Asia, the 2008 Taiwanese comedy Cape No. 7 scooped almost every award going at that year’s Golden Horse Film Awards, Asia’s version of the Oscars. The film also broke all box-office records throughout the continent, making it the highest-grossing film ever made in Taiwan.
It was filmed entirely in the tropical south of Taiwan, around the towns of Kenting and Hengchun. There’s no shortage of scenic locations, from beaches to old streets to traditional architecture ripe for the visiting.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Combine trademark dry British wit, India’s vibrant, colorful culture, and a 370-year-old property, and you’ve got a mix for a memorable movie.
The hotel, which is an actual a traditional Indian haveli (manor house, or mansion) named Ravla Khempur, can be found in the village of Khempur in vibrant Rajasthan. With an open courtyard, canopied balconies, and traditionally decorated rooms, it’s as visually arresting in real life as it is onscreen.
The hotel is surrounded by a horse breeding stable and paddocks, and caters as much to horse lovers as to movie buffs.
Thailand: Krabi Province
The Man With The Golden Gun,
The Beach, etc.
Home to some of the most visited beaches in Asia, the waters around Phuket Island are no stranger to filming locations. The James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun was shot in 1974 on Kho Ping Khan in Phang Nga Bay, in Krabi Province. Now known as James Bond Island, it’s a major tourist attraction
Though there’s no denying Roger Moore’s cool status, it does pale a bit when compared to Leonardo DiCaprio’s. He, of course, filmed The Beach in Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leh, which subsequently saw an onslaught of tourists until the government closed it to for environmental regeneration. It recently reopened, with stricter tourism rules in place.
Indeed for Krabi, it’s a case of pick-your-flick, from Mortal Kombat to the geographically implausible Hangover II, and every genre in between.
Crazy Rich Asians
You knew this one was coming. Unlike Hong Kong or Tokyo, Singapore has rarely graced the big screen as a location in its own right… until the 2018 crazy-popular blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, which used the city as its primary location.
While the film flaunts the OTT lifestyles of the super-wealthy, it also does a good job showcasing Singapore’s food, culture and cosmopolitan-meets-historic style to the world. Seared onto celluloid are the hawker centers, the award-winning rooftop pools of Marina Bay Sands, the iconic Raffles Hotel, Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove, and Bukit Pasoh Road, to name a few.
Eat, Pray, Love
Another mecca-creating mega-hit, one of the most successful international movies filmed in Indonesia, Eat, Pray, Love, has spawned an offshoot industry with numerous filming-location tours on offer.
For the Bali portions of the movie, most scenes were shot in the areas surrounding central Ubud and Padang Padang Beach on Bali’s southern Bukit Peninsula. Though if you go looking for the bar where the main characters meet, you’ll be disappointed, as it was a set created for the movie. But never mind: the rice terraces and village life of Ubud, and the surf-drenched sands of Padang Padang are island staples forever.
To turn a cyber-crime thriller into something that looks good on camera takes some talent. Thankfully, director Michael Mann is the, umm, man. And having Chris Hemsworth as your principal actor doesn’t hurt either.
Three out of the four countries used for Black Hat filming locations were in Asia. “I found Asia a very exciting place to go,” Mann said. “If you can make it real for the actors, it becomes real for the audience. They’re not looking at a green screen and having to imagine.”
The shoot in Malaysia lasted about five weeks with scenes in Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang, Pulau Pangkor, Manjung, Lumut, Marina Island, and Putrajaya.
Kong: Skull Island
As the largest production ever shot in Vietnam (US$190 million), Kong: Skull Island demanded filming locations as expansive as the budget. Trang An, Vân Long and Tam Con (Ninh Binh Province), the iconic Ha Long Bay, and the entrance of the Tu Lan Caves were all featured.
The Ninh Binh area is known as the inland cousin of Ha Long Bay. Scenically similar, though significantly smaller, it has far fewer visitors. The Trang An area where scenes were shot is listed as part of a UNESCO World Heritage area, which has several unique Buddhist pagodas and temples.
For a country as vibrant with culture and as varied in topography as Japan, it has hosted surprisingly few foreign productions. This is likely due to the vast amount of red tape required for filming anywhere in the country.
But being electric and dynamic, Tokyo’s proven irresistible for a few films. Several have featured the renowned Shibuya crossing (regarded as the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, with as many as 2,500 people crossing at a time) in the heart of Tokyo’s shopping district. These memorably include Lost in Translation, the fourth movie of the Resident Evil series, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Tokyo Drift also used locations of Takeshita Dori shopping street in Harajuku, the once famous bright pink Botan Pachinko (since razed and redeveloped as a mall), and Daikokufuto, a rest stop with a massive array of vending machines in the Yokohama Bay area, just south of Tokyo.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Said director Gareth Edwards, of his quest to find the perfect location to represent the aquatic Planet Scarif: “It had to be a paradise world surrounded by crystal blue waters, palm trees, and sandy beaches.” In other words: the Maldives.
Laamu Atoll, which includes 11 uninhabited islands, was used to represent the planet Scarif. And two further filming locations were the islands of Gan—the largest island in the Maldives, home to picturesque Buddhist ruins—and jungle-clad Baresdhoo, which was used for battle scenes.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
With Himalayan ranges, monks, and ancient monasteries, Bhutan is seemingly ready-made for any fantasy franchise, and specifically Fantastic Beasts. The country’s mountains are used as the set for Eyrie, a sky-high, cliff-hugging, headquarters for wizards.
Fittingly, Bhutan was also the primary location for the 2003 film Travelers and Magicians.