Hainan, China: Movie Town at China's Mission Hills resort

RESORT

I have been transported to Shanghai in 1942 and I didn't come via a souped-up DeLorean, just a modest shuttle bus from Mission Hills resort in Hainan. Yet now I am surrounded by antique signage, hand-painted movie posters for historic hits such as The 49 Steps, and vintage-tea exporters. Shop owners flit up and down the street in bright-coloured cheongsams against a backdrop of buildings that have been recreated from historical photographs, places like the West Hill Clock Tower and the fully operational Chongqing Guotai movie theatre. 

This is Movie Town, the latest attraction at Mission Hills, a sprawling playground for serious golfers with 10 18-hole golf courses for the plus-fours set to choose from. But now, second-generation CEO Ken Chu wants to add some movie magic to his resort, think of it as a mini Hainanese Hollywood.

In addition to the replica Chongqing Street from the 1940s that opened in June, Mission Hills is building an Old Beijing Street and a Nanyang Street and adding the finishing touches to an 8000sqm movie studio. 

Movie Town is the brainchild of Chu and Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, whose hits include Aftershock, If You Are the One, and Back to 1942, on which the first phase of Movie Town is based.

Over dinner one night with Ken Chu, Feng – known as the "Chinese Spielberg" – said how sad he feels on the completion of a film when the sets that he has spent months on are torn down. Chu's solution was to pack them up and make them a permanent fixture at Mission Hills.

"Movie Town is the place where dreams can come true! I hope the tourists who visit will recall every precious moment in my movies – whether through laughter or tears – in every corner of Movie Town," Feng says. "I am confident tourists will feel on the top of the world when they come here."

On the day it opened, 8000 tourists made their way through Chonqing Street, many renting traditional costumes and parasols to make them feel more like time travellers as well as tourists.

I opt out of wearing a changshan for my tour but once enveloped by the time-worn buildings –which are made from wood that is burned and sanded to look aged – you can't help but feel as if you are part of another time. The illusion is quickly broken though as I turn a corner to see groups of people mugging with smartphones in front of an old car parked outside a replica of Yao Lu, a Western-influenced villa that was Chang Kai-shek's former residence. 

At night the illusion is better and you find tourists more likely to frock up in the period costumes and parade up and down the dimly lit street with drinks in hand.

There is a sprinkle of Hollywood magic back at Mission Hills proper too as we walk along the Avenue of Stars, hand prints of the great and good that have taken part in the Mission Hills Celebrity Pro Am. There are imprints from Hugh Grant and Adrien Brody, the latter broke ground on Movie Town while he was there two years ago. This year's line up is the biggest yet with Nicole Kidman, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman and Captain America Chris Evans set to tee off on October 24-26.

The Pro Am launch event will be held at Mission Hills' new entertainment precinct based on the famous Lan Kwai Fong bar strip in Hong Kong. It is bare concrete and scaffolding on my visit but this instant party strip, just a stone's throw away from Movie Town, has workers toiling around the clock to have the precinct –which will include a Hard Rock Hotel – ready for the Pro Am. This unusual franchising of Hong Kong nightlife is the second outing after Lan Kwai Fong Chengdu.

With LKF Hainan still under renovation I head to Haikou town for my final night and into the hands of another famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who has moved from directing films, to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and now Impressions Hainan, a large-scale expressive dance performance said to "represent the essence of Hainan life". It's a technically impressive affair, though Hainan's indigenous cultures play a supporting role to choreographed beach frolics that seem more Beach Blanket Bingo than House of Flying Daggers but it's a brassy attempt to woo tourists to an idealised way of life in Hainan.

Mission Hills is part of the same package, a Field of Dreams on steroids, where if you build it – be it the world's largest spa, a mineral springs with 167 pools, a franchised party town or a Shanghai time trip – they will come, mainly from China's north in search of warmer climes, but as more is added to this adult Disneyland they will likely come from further afield too.

The writer was a guest of Mission Hills resort, Hainan.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

en.visithainan.gov.cn

GETTING THERE

Cathay Pacific has direct flights to Hainan from Sydney and Melbourne (cathaypacific.com). Or fly to Singapore where low-cost carriers Tigerair, Jetstar and Air Asia all have flights to Haikou.

STAYING THERE

Mission Hills is so big it's a destination in itself with mineral springs, the world's largest spa and nature walks; double rooms from AUD$180

missionhillschina.com

DINING THERE

Magma Cafe, Level 1, Mission Hills Clubhouse specialises in regional noodle dishes; try Hainanese specialties  such as Wenchang poached chicken and Hainanese crab at Silver Moon Chinese restaurant in the Clubhouse lower level; sample stellar sushi at Ukiyo Japanese fine diner in the Hotel Basement area.

Comments