China’s giant property and entertainment conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group has raised the curtain – a little bit – on its new multi-billion dollar theme park and theater developments in Wuhan Nov. 7 as it expands its presence across the country while continuing to stretch its reach around the globe.
Steered by China’s second-richest man Wang Jianlin, the company in 2012 purchased AMC Entertainment, thereby staking its claim to be the world’s largest cinema operator, while it has recently announced billion-dollar plans to establish facilities in Hollywood and Australia.
But the developments in Wuhan — which will be officially opened Dec. 20 — reflect the current shift in China towards “internal consumption,”according to Tang Jun, vice president of the Beijing Wanda Cultural Industry Group.
Tang said it was thought that “entertainment and leisure could be one of the major drivers” of this economic trend in China, which has been a mantra pushed by China President Xi Jinping
“This development is unprecedented in China,” claimed Tang. “It’s a combination of culture with high technology. That’s the charter.”
A small group of select guests were treated Nov. 7 to a sneak preview of the attractions being fine-tuned in Wuhan, while also taking in behind-the-scenes tours of the sprawling buildings that will house them.
Mark Fisher — the British artistic director of the Beijing and London Olympics who passed away in June — designed the Han Show Theatre based on a traditional glowing Chinese red lantern, and the Wanda Movie Park, which covers an areas of 100,000 square meters, from the shape of China’s Chu-Han culture’s ancient bells.
Opening next month, the “The Han Show,” created by theatrical director Franco Dragone, will be staged in the custom-build theater that carries its name while the Wanda Movie Park — Wanda is claiming it’s the world’s first indoor movie theme park — will boast six major attractions developed with the likes of Industrial Light & Magic, as well as retail and dining outlets.
Tang said Wuhan, one of China’s “second-tier” cities with a population of around 10.2 million, capital of the Hubei province and situated in the center of the country, had been earmarked for cultural development due to its rich heritage, which dates back to 1500 BC. Its East Lake was a favored holiday destination for China’s former leader Mao Tse-tung.
But Tang said the plan was to also establish a “new image” for Wuhan.
To that end, the two theater and theme park facilities are supplemented by Han Street: a retail, dining and entertainment district that Wanda says has attracted an average of more than 300,000 visitors per day since opening in September 2011. Han Street now comes surrounded by a growing number of commercial buildings and towering condominiums, with the hope that sales of flats within them will offset some of the overall cost of the project. There are also hotels around the developments, including the five-star Wanda Reign, which sits next to the Han Show Theatre.
Wanda is also hoping crowds will flock to the site to take in attractions at the Wanda Movie Park, and guests Nov. 7 tested out the Hubei in the Air flight simulation ride that flies guests through the province’s spectacular sites. Other attractions set to open next month include a 3D Journey to the West interactive ride/game.
“We think (capacity) will be about 8,000 people at one time. During the first year we are projecting three million visitors and for revenue RMB800 million ($130.6 million),” said Aaron Soo, Wanda Movie Park’s general manager, who estimated the movie park alone would cost his company around RMB4.2 billion ($685 million) when completed. No official estimate of the amount Dalian Wanda Group has spent was offered.
Dragone is also fine-tuning “The Han Show” with the help of costume designer Tim Yip (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Nov. 7 presented a series of small live excepts from the show to guests. “The Han Show” is looking to build on the success Dragone and his team have had in the southern Chinese gambling hub of Macau with “The House of Dancing Water,” which has met with great success since opening at the City of Dreams casino resort in 2010.
Although not giving too much away, Dragone explained his production would reflect how young Chinese people today are facing up to their future, told through the story of a teenage couple.
“I will never have enough in seven lives to learn about the grandeur of this country,” said Dragone, the former Cirque du Soleil creative director who branched out on his own in 2000. “But I have always tried to find a language that can talk to everybody.”
The Dalian Wanda Group has plans for 13 major theme parks over the next three years including a film studio and theme park complex in Qingdao, which will host a film festival starting in 2017.
It also has plans to establish a further 200 smaller “Baby King” theme parks specifically for younger children across China over the next few years.
As well as the acquisition of AMC Entertainment —which pushed its reach to more than 6,000 screens globally — the company has thrown its financial weight behind a series of major productions in recent years, among them Jackie Chan’s “Police Story 2013” and the 3D martial arts fantasy hit “The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven,” starring Chow Yun-fat and Donnie Yen.