From ancient jungle covered temples to swanky bars and splendid beaches, there’s no shortage of cinematic-worthy splendour in the region. Here, Expat Living contributor NEIL ARMSTRONG reveals some of the famous movie locations in Asia that have been immortalised – from the well-known to the hidden in plain sight.
Movie Location #1 – Udaipur, India
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
Combine trademark dry British wit from some big-name actors (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and others), with India’s vibrant, colourful culture, and a 370-year-old property, and you’ve got a mix for a memorable movie. The hotel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is actually a traditional Indian haveli (manor house, or mansion), named Ravla Khempur. It can be found in the village of Khempur, around 50km outside of Udaipur in Rajasthan. With an open courtyard, canopied balconies and traditionally decorated rooms, it’s as visually arresting in real life as it is on celluloid.
The scenery in a James Bond film, meanwhile, can generally be split into two categories: deep, dark prisons – usually featuring a laser with a maniacally laughing villain explaining the plot – or opulent luxury. In Octopussy, it’s the latter, with The Taj Lake Palace Hotel heavily featured throughout. The hotel serves as a “floating palace” for the evil smuggler Octopussy and is mainly inhabited by skimpily-clad women. The character may have wanted to destroy the world, but you must admit he has some style.
Movie Location #2 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tomb Raider (2001)
From the time Angelina Jolie swung into frame from a vine at Ta Phrom, the ancient root-riddled city and temples of Angkor have seen a rapid increase in visitor numbers. The film Tomb Raider – based on the computer game of the same name, of which more than 75 million copies have sold – ensured the beauty and history of this UNESCO site area has made it to everyone’s bucket list.
Reportedly, it cost Paramount Pictures US$10,000 per day to use this as a film location. But for a place thought to have taken 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants 35 years to build, that’s a bargain.
Movie Location #3 – Gage Street, Hong Kong
Rush Hour (1998)
The action comedy Rush Hour featuring martial arts icon Jackie Chan and comedian Chris Rock sees them causing chaos around Central district’s iconic Gage Street markets, where Chris’s character has a lively encounter with a chicken vendor.
The street is also featured in the background of a scene between Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman in one of the Batman franchise films, The Dark Knight.
Movie Location #4 – Krabi Province, Thailand
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Beach (2000)
Home to some of the most visited beaches in Asia, the waters around Phuket Island are no stranger to filming locations. The James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun was shot on Khao Phing Kan in Phang Nga Bay. Now known as James Bond Island, it’s a major tourist attraction.
Though there’s no denying Roger Moore’s cool status, it does pale slightly compared to Leonardo DiCaprio’s. He, of course, filmed The Beach in Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leh, which saw an onslaught of tourists until the government closed it for environmental regeneration, though it’s recently reopened.
So for Krabi, it’s a case of pick-your-flick, from Mortal Kombat to the geographically implausible Hangover II and every genre in between.
Movie Location #5 – Singapore
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
You knew this one was coming. Unlike Hong Kong or Tokyo, Singapore rarely graced the big screen as a film location in its own right until the blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians used the city as its primary location.
While the film flaunts the lifestyles of the super-wealthy, it still does a good job showcasing Singapore’s food, culture and cosmopolitan style to the world. Seared onto celluloid are the hawker centres, the rooftop pools of Marina Bay Sands, the iconic Raffles Hotel, the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, and Bukit Pasoh Road, to name a few.
Movie Location #6 – Bali, Indonesia
Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
For the Bali portions of the movie, most scenes were shot in the areas surrounding central Ubud and Padang Padang Beach on Bali’s southern Bukit Peninsula. However, look for the bar where the main characters meet and you’ll be disappointed. The filmmakers created the set for the movie. But never mind: Ubud’s rice terraces, village life and Padang Padang’s surf-drenched sands are island staples forever.
Movie Location #7 – Kenting, Taiwan
Cape No. 7 (2008)
Little known outside of Asia, the Taiwanese comedy Cape No. 7 scooped almost every award going at 2008’s Golden Horse Film Awards, Asia’s version of the Oscars. It also broke all box-office records throughout the continent, making it the highest-grossing film ever made in Taiwan.
Filming took place entirely in the tropical south of Taiwan, around the towns of Kenting and Hengchun. There’s no shortage of scenic locations, from beaches to old streets and traditional architecture ripe for visiting.
Movie Location #8 – Malaysia
To turn a cyber-crime thriller into something that looks good on the big screen takes some talent. Thankfully, director Michael Mann is the, umm, man. And having Chris Hemsworth as your principal actor doesn’t hurt, either!
Three of the four countries used for Blackhat filming locations were in Asia. “I found Asia a very exciting place to go,” Michael said. “If you can make it real for the actors, it becomes real for the audience. They’re not looking at a green screen and having to imagine.”
The shoot in Malaysia lasted about five weeks. Scenes were shot in KL, Port Klang, Pulau Pangkor, Manjung, Putrajaya and elsewhere.
This article first appeared in the January 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
To make the most of living in Singapore, read our latest City Guide here for free!
Get the latest events, stories and special offers
sent to your inbox.
By signing up, you'll receive our weekly newsletters and offers, which you can unsubscribe to anytime.