Our selection of 7 movies located in Asia with very different stories to tell.
Anyone with enough travel insight would know that Asia is definitely worth exploring! This magical region has long been one of the go-to choices for Hollywood filmmakers thanks to its distinctive character, its kaleidoscope of cultures, and an extraordinary variety of stunning scenery both natural and man-made that make for a wonderful stage for any form of celluloid, moving and still.
Whether you’re a spontaneous adventurer, a luxury traveller, or a culture and experience junky, Asia offers so much variety. This fascinating continent has a backdrop to match almost every story with movie makers and artists long taking advantage of this theatre of every-life. While we are getting ready for the borders to reopen, I am pleased to share with you our pick of the Hollywood movies made in Asia. I hope the following selection delights and inspires you to create your next holiday story in our beautiful home, Asia. We are all looking forward to welcoming you back.
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)
Siem Reap – Cambodia
‘Ta Prohm’ is an enigmatic 12th century Hindu temple immersed in the jungles that surround Angkor Wat that was made more iconic (if that were possible) through its use as a setting for the movie “Tomb Raider”. Here the heroine of this action-packed movie, played by Angelina Jolie, battled the Illuminati for possession of an ancient talisman.
Tomb Raider was based on the video game of the same name and is the story of an aristocratic English adventurer called Lara Croft, and her escapades searching for antiquities. The first film shot in Cambodia since Peter O’Toole played Lord Jim in the shadow of Angkor Wat in 1964, much of the action was set in the temple complex of Angkor Wat. The movie led to huge tourist interest in Angkor Wat particularly in the photogenic Ta Prohm temple, now famed for the image of the gigantic Banyan tree that envelops and entwines the temple ruins. It’s been almost 20 years since the first Tomb Raider film, but Angkor Wat, and Ta Prohm specifically, still attract the crowds looking for that perfect Hollywood Insta-moment.
THE BEACH (2000)
Krabi – Southern Thailand
The Beach was filmed on the Thai island of Phi Phi Leh, an island of the Phi Phi archipelago located in the Andaman Sea. It is the story of a young backpacker, played by Leonardo de Caprio, who arriving in Thailand learns about a pristine tropical island where a group of backpackers have founded their own isolated community to hide away from the world and live off the grid on their own paradise island. The story set on Phi Phi Leh’s stunning Maya Beach twists and turns into a dark contemporary version of Lord of the Flies. Ironically, considering the theme of the movie, the cult success of the film led to a wave of tourists rushing to the scenic location where the extreme overcrowding and resulting environmental damage led to the Thai authorities closing Maya Beach to tourists. Isolation set and sanctioned by authority and paradise seeking backpackers and tourists denied access. A victim of its own success you might say.
The backdrop to the movie is picture postcard perfect, the islands of the Phi Phi Archipelago really are stunning, even without access to Maya Bay this region of Thailand is not to be missed. And the diving and snorkeling here is also incredible, helped no doubt by the closure of Maya Bay which has allowed the delicate coral ecosystems to renew (helped with more than 10,000corals being replanted) and reef biomass to increase with the return of many species of fish including Black Tip Reef Sharks which had not been seen in the waters around Maya Bay for many years.
The Thai authorities plan to reopen Maya Bay to tourism in mid-2021 and a ticketing system will be put in place to limit the number of daily visitors to no more than 1,200, compared to what was more than 5,000 a day previously, which led to the environmental damage and the decision to close the bay in 2018.
HANGOVER II (2011)
Bangkok – Thailand
Now let us hop over to the busy, sleepless, beating heart of Thailand. The second of this comedy film trilogy sees the hapless wolf-pack head to Thailand for a wedding and after what should have been a calm, quiet pre-wedding brunch they find themselves frantically trying to retrace their steps through the streets of Bangkok to find a soon-to-be-married groom who went missing after a wild night of partying.
The movie opens calmly on Phang Nga’s beautiful and serene beaches, famed for their dreamy soft white sand beaches and dramatic karst limestone scenery. The action then moves on to Bangkok with energetic key scenes including Tuk-Tuk ‘car’ chases, speedboat madness on the Chao Phraya river and Thonburi canals, with additional scenes in Bangkok’s red light districts and in the city’s vibrant and foodie heaven, Chinatown. As the song says, ‘One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster…’.
It was reported that former USA President Bill Clinton visited the set of the film in Bangkok when he was in Thailand, which led to some rumours that he had a cameo appearance in the film…was that really his shaved legs in high-heels strutting the runway of Siam Sam’s GoGo bar?
THE LOVER (1992)
Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong Delta – Vietnam
This steamy film is set in French Colonial Vietnam in 1929. A young French teenage girl embarks on a reckless and forbidden romance with a wealthy, older Chinese man, each knowing that knowledge of their affair will bring drastic consequences to both of them. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, the ‘powers that be’ of Vietnam were very much involved in the production of this film, even dictating that the love scenes—which left little to the imagination—be filmed in a studio in France rather than on location in Vietnam. The Lover was the first western movie to be shot in Vietnam after the country’s reunification in 1975.
Beautifully shot both in Vietnam and France, The Lover made extensive use of historic locations in and around Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. A Paris studio was used to film most of the interior shots however.
BEYOND RANGOON (1995)
Imagining Rangoon and wider Myanmar
‘Beyond Rangoon’ is a fiction based on fact drama, directed by John Boorman, about an American tourist in Myanmar at the time of the 8888 Uprising. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, then now is the time to watch it.
Sadly, the parallels with what is happening to the people of Myanmar today are palpable. History truly repeats itself. Why is it that it is always the common man and woman, the majority, that have to pay the price for a powerful minority’s inability to acknowledge and learn the lessons from history? Lessons that are always written in the blood, pain and wasted lives of the citizenry of a nation, and repeated all too often in every continent.
Shot in Malaysia the movie cleverly creates scenes of old Rangoon (Yangon) and Myanmar as the young tourist, Laura Bowman played by Patricia Arquette, witnesses the student uprising of 1988 in Rangoon. She watches in shock as the Myanmar Military viciously attempt to stamp out the students’, and monkhood’s, political rallies and the people’s calls for democracy. Bearing witness to the brutality of the military dictatorship of the Ne Win Regime, she joins up with the student leader U Aung Ko and they attempt to escape to Thailand to report to the world what was (and sadly still is) happening in Myanmar.
Myanmar (Burma) is an incredibly beautiful country with so much to offer the world, and resource rich as it is, so much opportunity that it should be offering to, and sharing with, its people. It is a living breathing Shangri-La that is being strangled and beaten all too often by the iron grip of gun toting psychopaths. I am sure you join with me in praying for a rightful and peaceful return to democracy for the people of Myanmar. After all the death and devastation inflicted on our human world from the covid crisis these past 12months, it truly beggars belief that we start a new year with such abhorrent scenes of abuse and hostility on a gentle and peaceful people that have surely suffered enough these past 60years…
EAT PRAY LOVE (2010)
Bali – Indonesia, Delhi – India and Pataudi – Italy
Already very well known as a bestselling 2006 memoir of the same name by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love the movie was released in 2010 and stars Julia Roberts. A story of one woman’s life changing journey where upon reaching a crossroads in her life she decides to spend a year traveling and hits the road to challenge and find herself. Her travels take her to Italy where she discovers the pleasure of eating (Eat), continuing her journey in India she discovers the meaning and beauty of prayer and meditation (Pray) and finally in Bali, she discovers the meaning of true love…in the form of a Brazilian…no not the hair-style du jour of the nether regions perfect for those string bikini days, but in the form of the Brazilian Felipe, a jewelry designer living on the island – who was rather hairy actually and could probably use a trip to one of Bali’s incredible spas for a good waxing session. Maybe that will be in the sequel…Indigestion Denunciation Hate…
Elizabeth certainly picked some wonderful locations for her journey of self-discovery and these are beautifully shared in the cinematography of the movie. The stunning views and natural beauty alone already make this movie well worth watching from the beginning to the end as it takes you on a journey from Rome and Naples (Italy), Delhi and Pataudi (India), and finally Ubud and Padang-Padang Beach on Bali (Indonesia).
THE APU TRILOGY (1955, 1956 and 1959)
Rural Bengal, Calcutta and Varanasi – India
Considered one of the high watermarks of Bengali film, The Apu Trilogy has won countless awards over the years from Cannes, Venice, Berlin, BFI and many others, and is regularly selected by film critics as one of the all-time greatest films. The movies have been cited as influences by directors including Martin Scorsese, James Ivory, Akira Kurosawa Abbas, Philip Kaufman, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle for the cinematography, direction and techniques pioneered in the creation of this movie. The Beatles also cited Ravi Shankar’s soundtracks for the 3 movies as an influence on their work too.
The 3 movies follow the life of the character ‘Apu’ from boyhood to adulthood with all the triumphs and despair that a life can bestow. Starting out as a young boy living in a rural village in Bengal, Apu’s father is a Brahmin and struggles to support the family. In the second movie the family have moved to the holy city of Varanasi where Apu discovers his aptitude for learning. Despite the family’s crippling poverty Apu pursues his education eventually moving to Calcutta to further his education. He begins to distance himself from his rural roots and his relationship with his mother suffers as a result. And in the final movie Apu pursues his dream of becoming a writer. He is pressured into marriage which blossoms into a beautiful relationship only to be dashed as his young wife dies in childbirth. The child survives and the film deals with Apu learning to accept his responsibilities.
The trilogy beautifully tells the story of one man’s life in India and in completion of the story shares a timeless expression of humanity, one that we can all relate to regardless of ethnicity, nationality, affiliation or religion.
A perfect movie for today when the big questions are being asked of us all as our unshakeable worlds have for many of us been shaken to the core. But the simple pleasures and beauty of life are still there for us all to enjoy, or perhaps more importantly, for us all to appreciate. A life affirming piece of cinematic art of a simple man accepting the truths of his life – a film for our time.