Hengdian witness: immersive interactive experience brings joy to tourists and achieves common prosperity
Published: Mar 02, 2023 10:11 PM Updated: Mar 02, 2023 10:06 PM
Tourists take part in an immersive acting experience at Hengdian World Studios in East China’s Zhejiang Province. Photo: Courtesy of the Comprehensive Coordination Office of the Hengdian Film and Television Culture Industrial Cluster

Tourists take part in an immersive acting experience at Hengdian World Studios in East China’s Zhejiang Province. Photo: Courtesy of Shan Guanding, the Hengdian Group

Decades ago, at age 14 or so, I longed for the spotlight and dreamed of becoming a famous actress who played the heroines in the plays and novels of literary giants William Shakespeare and Lu Xun, experiencing these different characters’ lives and destinies. My teachers used to praise me for my role play in classes and my friends would often say, “Hey, do you know you really look like a Hong Kong TVB star?” 

Decades have passed since then and I gradually gave up those dreams. So I never imagined that at the age of 40, my childhood dreams would finally come true. At Zhejiang Province’s Hengdian World Studios, Asia’s largest film and television shooting base and Chinese version of Hollywood, I was able to try out an immersive acting experience service that allows tourists to try on costumes and act out small extracts from hit TV series or movies. 

“Change into this,” the interactive service director said with a meaningful smile as he handed over a greenish-blue costume that looked like typical Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) clothing to me. 

“You can play the role of the heroine.”

Taking part in the experience with me were more than a dozen tourists of both genders and of different ages. After we put on our costumes and finished getting our hair put into ancient styles, we had a mini launch ceremony.

Judging from the elaborately lotus-patterned costume I was wearing, I had imagined my screen debut would be a grande dame from a noble family, or at least a genteel lady from a family with dignity who had a crush on a poor handsome gentleman like in most romantic plays and novels. However, it turned out that I would play the part of a young woman who was bullied by a villainous playboy and later rescued by two chivalrous swordswomen. The service director explained to everyone their parts and specific movements and lines before the shooting started. 

The short extract contained a variety of factors even a fight scene. Apart from the service director and several cameramen, a group of staffers assisted us during the shoot while playing minor roles like the villain’s subordinates. They gave us reminders about our movements, lines and facial expressions. 

Everyone really sunk their teeth into the movie shoot, turning out to be extremely fun. One of the two young girls who played the chivalrous swordswomen told me that she had always dreamed of being such a heroine who rescued people in need of help and now her dream had finally come true at Hengdian. 

Apart from the tens of thousands of extras who chase their superstar dreams at Hengdian, a slew of tourists like me and the young girl head to the film and television shooting base, which is also a 5A-level (China’s top level) tourist attraction, to experience what it is like to be a star. 

In September 2022, a group of 16 elderly women from Shanghai re-shot a scene from the 2011 hit period drama The Legend of Zhen Huan at Hengdian. The 15-minute remake gained at least 2 million views on video platform Bilibili soon after it went online. 

The “micro film” shooting service, which started in 2016, has allowed numerous performing arts enthusiasts of all ages who would ordinarily never have a chance to enter movie circle to experience the joy and hardship of a real film shooting. 

At the Hengdian film base, I met several groups of primary and high school students from across the country who were taking part in the “micro film” shooting service. 

“It was great fun to play the part of a Qing Dynasty [1644–1911] emperor. The activities have broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of Chinese culture,” a middle school student from Linhai city in Zhejiang told me. 

With these interactive services, the shooting base has also injected vitality into a large number of tourism-related industries, such as the hotel business and catering and beverage industry. 

The four-star hotel where I stayed over the weekend was packed with students of different ages from across the country who were fulfilling their schools’ community engagement requirements in Hengdian. 

More than 800,000 tourists flooded Hengdian during the Spring Festival vacation in January, bringing in some 80 million yuan ($11.5 million) in ticket revenue for the shooting base, according to Ma Zhenhua, director of the Comprehensive Coordination Office of the Hengdian Film and Television Culture Industrial Cluster. 

According to Ma, the total tourist spending in the Hengdian area was about 400 million yuan, among which about 250 million yuan actually went to local small businesses such as bed and breakfasts (B&B) and catering services, a true way to achieve common prosperity. 

“Hengdian has made great contributions to China’s rapid development. In future, the industrialization and high-quality development of the Chinese film and television industry is sure to start with Hengdian. But our ultimate goal is to attract more companies and people to come here and bring vitality to this land, improving the livelihood of locals and realizing common prosperity for all people,” Lou Shouwei, assistant president of Hengdian Group, told me.