It may look like a crumbling desert fort, but for the Chinese movie industry Zhenbeibu film studio is like Hollywood, Universal Studios and Monument Valley all rolled into one.Originally the strategically important location of two forts at the foot of Helan Mountain, these were destroyed by a massive earthquake. Reknowned Chinese writer Zhang Xianliang took over the site and Zhenbeibu is now one of the three largest film studios in China, and the most famous in Western China.
The location for dozens of blockbuster Chinese films since 1992, these studios are now the hub of desert based Chinese movies. These movies often feature warriors on horseback, with epic stories frequently sharing similar themes to the bleaker American cowboy movies. The dusty ruins and barren landscapes enhance the feelings of desolation so popular in this type of Chinese film.
Recreated streets, markets and buildings have replaced the innards of the two forts. With the help of a little set dressing and costumed actors, these can replicate many periods of Chinese history.
Zhang Yimou (or Johnny Mo to those that won’t try to pronounce his name) chose Zhenbeibu as the location for his critically successful first film ‘Red Sorghum’. Red Sorghum is a type of wine, and it’s still possible to walk around the distillery set (and of course, buy the liquor). Zhang Yimou went on to direct many popular films and was the director of the spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Some of the other attractions include dressing up as your favourite character, posing in movie sets and even starring in short video clips. One stag party were keen to pose in front of a particular building, as was their driver, until she learnt she was posing in front of a brothel, backed by 12 leering men.
Other popular movies shot here are the ‘Chinese Odyssey’ series, directed by Stephen Chow who later created ‘Shaolin Soccer’ and the internationally successful ‘Kung Fu Hustle’. Despite not having a detailed knowledge of the Chinese movie industry, I’m keen on films in general so wandering round behind the scenes on a movie shoot was great fun.
Covering the fantasy film genre, there are two cave sets – the horror cave and the mystery cave. Of these, the horror cave seemed the most popular with visitors. It contained monster costumes from a number of scary films, none of which I’ve seen. I was more entertained by the mystery cave and it’s very cheap props such as the treasure chest filled with priceless gold foil sweet wrappers.
The Zhenbeibu China West Film Studio is about 35km from Yinchaun. There’s a bus route, but it’s more convienient to hire a taxi to take you out there. They’ll wait 3-4 hours, which is enough time for you to visit everything.