While much of THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM was created on the sound stages of Hengdian World Studios, numerous spectacular locations in China were chosen for exterior scenes: the Gobi desert in Dunhuang, the Nine Bends River, the waterfall at Xianju, the greens of the Wuyi Mountains, the Bamboo Camp at Anji and the Plum Blossom Garden at Fangyan. “Since we were coming all this way to make a movie about China, we wanted to make sure that we really saw China and showed China to our audience,” explains Silver. “We had the approval and support of the Chinese government, so it was a very good experience.”
Hollywood production designer Bill Brzeski, who has worked closely with director Rob Minkoff on his previous films, was supported by a team of more than twenty designers from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and even Eastern Europe. “As the story does not take place in any reality, we did exhaustive research on classical Chinese architecture and cultural style and then brought it to a fantasy level,” explains Brzeski. “Overall, we gave the film a Western sensibility in order to show that the story is being told visually from the point of view of Jason, who is a modern-day American teenager.” Additionally, Hong Kong designer Shirley Chan’s costumes helped give the varied cast of legendary characters a timeless, epic quality.
Apart from the numerous exterior shots, the production team designed and constructed several studio sets at the renowned Hengdian World Studios in Zhejiang, China. Says Silver, “I had not been to China before the preparation of this movie but I have found Hengdian to be an incredible facility. Their stages are spectacular and we’ve been able to accomplish a size and a scope for the movie that I think otherwise we could not have afforded.”
In addition to extensive sets and costumes, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM also features about eight hundred visual effects shots. Senior visual effects supervisor Ron Simonson oversaw effects in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, but the bulk of the work was completed in Seoul by three cutting edge companies: Macrograph, Inc., Digital Tetra Inc. (DTI) and Footage. “Korea is on the cutting edge of media in Asia, and I am thrilled by their work,” says Minkoff.
Production was not without its difficulties, particularly with the language differences and the cultural divide between American and Chinese sensibilities. But Minkoff calibrated the many facets of the massive production beautifully. Recalls Angarano, “There were so many different elements to this movie which I didn’t comprehend at first – so many special effects, action sequences, Chinese action directors, Chinese actors and this one American actor all going on at the same time, so there could be a lot of miscommunication. But Rob did an amazing job of being the ringleader all the way through this epic.”
Now that THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is completed, Minkoff looks back on his experience as an American director in China and notes how similar the story of the movie is to the story of making the movie. “Just like Jason, the young protagonist of THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, I am an American who went on a journey to China. And like Jason, I came in with a great love for Asian film and martial arts films and learned a great deal from the masters of kung fu cinema: Yuen Wo Ping, Peter Pau, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. So to finally and actually make a movie with these incredible Asian superstars, to have been there with them and through the process, and through the journey of the movie, has been an incredible personal journey for me as well.”