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Photos: Inside Suzhou’s New HB World Film Park

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Yesterday, we wrote about China’s ambitious moves in the film theme park sector and the reasons behind the industry’s rapid expansion. In particular, we looked at a brand new venture from Huayi Brothers, Suzhou’s HB World. But in addition to examining the park’s background, we also couldn’t resist the temptation to head to the site and check out all the craziness for ourselves.

The background:

Can New Chinese Film Park HB World Make a Run at Disneyland?

I made the bold decision to hit the theme park on Monday, grand opening day. Part of me was excited to spend a day at a theme park — the last time I went to something remotely similar to a theme park was the 2010 Shanghai World Expo — and part of me was not looking forward to the sweaty skin-to-skin contact in long lines, packed with people getting through security and waiting for rides. Imagine Black Friday, but with seniors and kids.

Well, none of that happened.

Main gate

Having taken a 30-minute gaotie out from Shanghai and then a 30-minute Didi car from the station, I arrived at a huge, empty parking lot. I was almost certain that I had come to the wrong gate as there was an absence of long lines and staff telling people not to queue jump through a loudspeaker — standard fixtures at most Chinese attractions. But apparently this was the main entrance, so I pulled up the QR code on my phone that was my ticket.

I came, I scanned, I entered.

Greeted with the long stretch of real estate that comprises “HB World Boulevard”, I felt like a VIP. It felt like the kid in Home Alone, like I had the whole park to myself. I was going to go on all the rides, and sweep this whole place like the 3D terrain mapping scanner in Prometheus. I went inside the visitor center adjacent to the entrance, grabbed a copy of the map and game-planned the best way to attack it all.

Then I found out that four major parts of the park were closed for maintenance. Which, was a bummer, to say the least — I was really looking forward to crossing “bungee jump” off my bucket list.

Anyway, the park is divided into five sections; four are based off of HB’s more successful films: Assembly, If You Are The One, Tai Chi, and the Detective Dee series. In between these sections are a range of different mini-areas: there’s a war-torn town, a cherry blossom (to be) filled Japanese village, a steampunk section, and a rendition of a city based in the Tang Dynasty. I was constantly being kept in check of which section I was in by the themed trash cans.

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To abridge my first five hours at the park: I watched two short movies (both in “4D”), went through a bunch of museum-like exhibitions about the history of HB and their productions, took a VR ride, had one fruit punch, had zero bungee jumps.

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In general, the park seemed wholly unprepared for what they said was the grand opening. There was no food. Well, there were a few cafeterias, but real restaurants were not open. In addition, there were unfinished buildings, guys were still installing surveillance cameras, and I may have spotted a Confederate flag flying from the Huayi Grand Cinema building.

Say what you like about Disneyland, but they generally have things ticking over pretty smoothly when it comes to the grand opening. And are probably attuned to how a Confederate flag might go down.

Upon arriving at the last section of the park — the Tang Dynasty zone — it quickly became evident that this will be HB World’s main attraction. Talk about saving the best for last.

Aside from the questionably Tang Dynasty-relevant pirate ship ride, street food area, haunted house, rollercoaster ride, and vertical drop ride, the entire area is surrounded by ancient-looking buildings and walls. It almost felt like I was standing inside the Forbidden City in Beijing. You know, with a giant Buddha statue looking over everything.

As with Disneyland, Universal Studios and similar attractions, HB World also offers up live action shows based upon their film IP. I managed to catch one based on the movie series Detective Dee, which is kind of like the Sherlock Holmes of China, except there’s way more kung fu and flying involved. Appropriately, the actors were cabled up and flying around the stage. It was fantastic.

Huayi Brothers has a great deal of content to build HB World upon, especially with a proven fan base for the films at this park’s heart. And there’s potential for it to be a Chinese version of something like Disneyland or Universal Studios. However, with the ticket price almost as much as Shanghai’s Disneyland, HB World will need to ace the execution and really cater to the Chinese audience to garner visitors.

Or at least let people go on the bungee jump.

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Thanakrit Gu
    Thanakrit (Thana) Gu is a Shanghai-based creative. He's worked with brands such as Marriott, AirBnB, and Lego, and his photography has been featured on the likes of Quartz. When he's not around his camera, he'll definitely be around one of these: Penny board, drumsticks, or just plain ol' classic Tabasco sauce.