Former Portuguese Colony Hopes To Be Backdrop For Filmmakers
It may boast gambling revenues five times those of Las Vegas, but as a destination for filmmakers the Chinese gaming enclave of Macau lags far behind its American counterpart. With Macau authorities and tourism officials spending the last several years (and millions of dollars) trying to rid the city of its seedy reputation and boost its status as a cultural hotspot, more recently Macau has been wooing film and television crews to use its glittering new buildings and centuries-old colonial-style neighborhoods alike as backdrops.
As with Vegas — which famously featured as a character in its own right in dozens of movies, including “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Hangover” — tourist officials hope that more Macau-set films could attract visitors looking for more than a few nights in the casino.
Macau served as the backdrop for the recent big-budget blockbuster “The Thieves”, the second-most successful South Korean film in history after 2006’s “The Host”. The enclave hopes to attract more productions in the film’s wake.
Watched by more than 12.9 million people in its homeland, “The Thieves” follows the trail of Korean and Chinese gangs as they plot a diamond theft.
The $9 million budget film has so far taken an estimated $82.6 million at the box office.
“Macau was chosen for its cinematic and exotic atmosphere,” said producer Ahn Soo-hyun, adding that the contrasts between its newly-built casinos and the city’s dim-lit and outdated buildings added to the film’s tone.
Along with “The Thieves,” Macau has been prominently been featured in South Korean productions like the television dramas “Princess Hours” (2006) and “East of Eden” (2008). According to Lew Hwan-kyu of the Macau Government Tourist Office, Korean films and television shows could be the key to promoting Macau to a greater audience, owing to their popularity throughout Asia and, to a much lesser extent, in North America and Europe. Said Lew, “South Korea has strong cultural influences across the world nowadays.” Already, Macau has seen a rise in tourists from South Korea, with 398,807 visitors to the city last year, a 20.2 percent increase year-over-year.
Though big-screen exposure via Asian and other international productions could have the potential to boost Macau’s visibility, an obstacle does remain in that the city’s film and television infrastructure remains far behind that of major production bases like Hong Kong or New York. Still, producers like Ahn Soo-hyun feel the city offers its own special flavor that will attract a certain adventurous type, regardless of setbacks. Said Ahn, “Macau definitely has its unique colors, and filmmakers who are looking for that sort of uniqueness will continue to head to the city”