Foreign cultural industry optimistic about the Chinese market

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/4 18:33:39

Shanghai Dungeon

If you happen to be fan of scary fun or immersive theater, there will soon be a new place for you to check out: the Shanghai Dungeon. To be located at a mall in Huangpu district and opened this autumn, it will be the first "Dungeon" in Asia and the 10th in the world.

As a multi-dimensional entertainment attraction based on thrilling and comedic elements, the Shanghai Dungeon has positioned itself as neither a common "haunted house tour" nor an "escape room," but rather a combination of immersive theater, themed adventure and stunning special effects together.

The Shanghai Dungeon is being developed by Merlin Entertainments Group, the masterminds behind Madame Tussauds Shanghai, LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Changfeng Ocean World.

Its professional team is taking the localization approach in three ways: story line, characters and themes.

"Our visitors will walk through old Shanghai's lost legends and meet those mischievous and hilarious Dungeon 'residents.' Meanwhile, our characters are closely bounded to authentic Shanghai elements. The theming and scenes, such as sound, light and props, also are closely linked to the old Shanghai style," Kieron Smith, artistic director of the Dungeons, told the Global Times.

Scary, fun and immersive

"Scary fun" is the essence of the Shanghai Dungeon. Visitors will be amused and surprised in the 10 different themed zones and also have a chance to try the first-ever "standing drop ride" as the grand finale of journey.

"In a Dungeon, we would usually hear three sounds: the happy 'haha,' the thrilled 'ah,' and the amazed 'wow,'" Smith said.

During the approximately 90-minute journey in the Dungeon, visitors are not only the audience but also part of the story.

"In a traditional theater, there is a concept called 'fourth wall' to show the gap between the stage and the audience. However, in a Dungeon, our actors break the fourth wall between themselves and the guests," Smith said.

However, this also poses challenge for the actors, as they need to "control the guests, interact and have fun with them," all at the same time, according to Smith.

Indeed, how to manage and regulate the audience has been a global challenge for this project.

On, despite the average rating of four stars out of five for the group's London Dungeon, a few visitors left remarks complaining of large crowds, pushing and shoving and screaming children ruining the show for others.

Spectacle or activity?

Jay Thornhill, a ­foreign entrepreneur living in Shanghai, shared his experience visiting the London Dungeon when he was young as well as his expectations for the soon-to-open Shanghai Dungeon.

"I remember having a great time. There were actual torture devices used in the middle ages, along with information about real historical figures like William Wallace. So it was more of a museum than a spectacle or activity, though there were some scares built in. I think it's just cool to take a journey to some of the darker aspects of human history and human nature," he said.

"I think it'd be great if the Shanghai Dungeon mixes historical facts with interactive exhibits, giving people a chance to safely experience terror, have some fun scares and also get a glimpse of the darker side of humanity," he added.

However, he also hopes the Shanghai Dungeon won't just rely on "walking around in the dark" or "people in costumes jumping out at you for cheap scares," and that it will put more effort into the back-stories and exhibitions.

Another British theatre company Punchdrunk's award-winning immersive Sleep No More, also entered Shanghai in 2016.

A production of Punchdrunk International and SMG Live, Sleep allowed audiences to move freely through a world based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, wandering through 90 ostentatiously decorated rooms.

Exploring entertainment trends

Benjamin Sweet, director of Merlin Entertainments New Openings Asia Pacific, told the Global Times that their decision to open in Shanghai was based on the optimistic outlook of China's entertainment and tourism industry.

"China is now experiencing a rapid transformation. The development of its entertainment industry is accelerating. Merlin Entertainments is very optimistic of the future of Chinese tourism industry," Sweet said.

"Shanghai is a very charming modern city, which has always been a pioneer to lead trends in Asia and even the world. And as we all know, Shanghai's young generation are always open to exploring and following trends," he said.

As for the future operations of the brand in Shanghai, Suzy Lin, general manager of the Shanghai Dungeon, said that the major challenge lies in how to introduce this new multidimensional, immersive, scary-fun entertainment experience to the local market.

Attendees at the Shanghai Dungeon groundbreaking ceremony in February Photos: Courtesy of Merlin Entertainments Group


Attendees at the Shanghai Dungeon groundbreaking ceremony in February



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