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Tuesday May 28th 2024

Ying Xiong (HERO) | 2002

Yimou Zhang, who made Raise The Red Lantern, ventures for the first time into epic martial arts territory, and the results are never less than ravishing.

The huge Qin palace, where Nameless (Jet Li) spins his dubious tale for the suspicious King of Qin (Daoming Chen), is a set – the largest in China – built for Kaige Chen’s The Emperor and the Assassin, at Hengdian World Studios, in Hengdiang, a town in the mountainous eastern province of Zhejiang.

Stretching over 800 acres, Hengdian is the largest film studio in the world, with13 shooting bases. It was born as recently as 1995 when director Xie Jin needed an epic set for his film The Opium War. On the film’s release, other directors, including Kaige Chen who needed a Qin Dynasty setting for The Emperor and the Assassin. Since then, the studio has hosted filming for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The City of Golden Armour, Kaige Chen’s The Promise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Rob Minkoff’s The Forbidden Kingdom, with Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Hengdian has become China’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Universal City, with its eight major sets open as theme parks (there’s an entrance fee for each), including a nine-tenths scale reproduction of Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Hengdiang can be reached by bus from the city of Hangzhou, a couple of hours west of Shanghai by train (or six and a half from Beijing). It's not far from Dongyang, served by Yiwu Airport.

The rainsoaked chess house, where Nameless fights Sky (Donnie Yen) was also built at Hengdian.

The attack on the school, where Nameless is trying to learn the secret of Broken Sword’s calligraphy, was filmed at Dangjin Mountain in Aksai, near old Dunhuang City (about six miles from the current Dunhuang), in northwest China, toward Mongolia.

This is also where you’ll find the amazing wind-blasted desert rock formations, or ‘yadan’, (evocatively dubbed ‘Devil City’ by the local inhabitants), which are also featured in Peter Pau’s 2002 The Touch, with Michelle Yeoh and Ben Chaplin. Virtually inaccessible until roads were built for the making of the films, the area is now promoted as a tourist destination.

Since the location is over 2000 metres above sea-level,be aware of potential problems with thin oxygen and powerful UV radiation.

TThe ravishing fight between Nameless and Broken Sword above the lake is at Jiu Zhai Gou (Nine Villages Valley), a popular tourist destination in the Min Shan mountain range, about 200 miles north of Chengdu (12 hours by bus), in the southwest province of Sichuan.

There are certain restrictions when visiting, as the area is a nature reserve, but the breathtaking array of lakes and waterfalls are worth the journey. The lake – where the pavilion for Flying Snow’s body was built for the film – is Jian Zhu Hai (Cold Bamboo Sea), surrounded by cold arrow bamboo (the foodstuff of giant panda) and China fir trees. Filming the complex fight was limited to two hours a day, between ten and noon, the only time the lake’s surface is perfectly still.

TJust to the south, where two valleys merge into Shuzheng Gully, you can see the waterfall, at which Broken Sword and Flying Snow meet in the ‘green’ sequence. It’s the 98-feet-high Nuorilang Falls (‘nuorilang’ is “magnificent and splendid” in the Tibetan language). More scenes filmed at the yellow grassy marshland near another lake, Chang Hai (Long Sea).

TThe elegaic fight between Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Moon (Ziyi Zhang) among fluttering autumnal leaves, is an ancient oak grove in Inner Mongolia. Timing was everything: an employee, stationed out in Mongolia, called the director the moment the leaves turned a perfect shade of gold.