China’s answer to popular Western theme parks is a runaway success

  • Focus
  • Saturday, 17 Jan 2015

Breathtaking performance: The Han Show, with 100 performers from 13 countries, features state-of-the-art theatre effects.

Halfway through The Han Show – one of the two latest offerings by Chinese property entertainment and property conglomerate Wanda Group – an audience member turned to me and asked, “Do you understand the storyline?”

I didn’t, to be honest.

But the wordless performance, which is staged daily in a structure that looks like a glowing Chinese lantern adorning a lakeside in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, was no doubt a feast for the eyes.

State-of-the-art theatre effects, masculine divers plunging down from platforms as high as 25m, acrobatic stunts and a sand art performance were just part of the content-rich show featuring 100 performers from 13 countries.

Futuristic and ancient elements were interwoven into the performance. The plot was loosely told through a young couple who appeared between each act.

Theatre extraordinaire Franco Dragone, who directed this show, addressed our doubts in a press conference after the debut show in December.

“The storyline provides a guide and lets the audience invent and imagine their own story. I want to give the space to the audience to question, and they need this space to imagine, to dream,” he said.

The Han Show Theatre flanked one end of the Wuhan Central Cultural District and the Wanda Movie Park the other.

Both of them, designed by UK-based Stufish Entertainment Architects, were built with a combined investment of 7bil yuan (RM4.02bil).

Shaped like a set of gold ancient Chinese chimes, Wanda Movie Park boasts six indoor attractions rich in special visual effects devised by an award-winning Hollywood team.

The stories are not based on any specific film; one of them – Hubei in the Air – took visitors on a simulated flight that transcends time and space, from ancient terrains to modern landscapes.

The others included a space-themed and interactive ride inspired by Journey to the West, one of the four great classical novels.

Tickets for both attractions – Han Show and Wanda Movie Park – have already been sold out until June, an indication of their popularity.

Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, 60, in a press conference, said the group is looking at innovative cultural products backed by technology.

“We have many ideas on cultural innovation and we are working hard to fuse the innovations together, as shown by our amusement parks and shows with varied themes.

“Our specialty is innovative cultural products as we want to bring Chinese culture to the world,” he said.

With plans to open a string of theme parks across China, Wanda looks set to lock horns with Disney, Universal Studios and DreamWorks that also have ambitions to make their presence felt in the country.

Lamenting the Chinese fascination with Western products, Wang said his theme park projects in Guangzhou and Wuxi are to compete with Disney (in Hong Kong and Shanghai respectively).

“If our endeavours prove to be successful, we can also invest in theme parks in the United States in the future,” he said.

Wanda, China’s largest cinema operator and owner of AMC cinema chain in the United States, is aiming fora revenue of US$100bil (RM355.4bil) in 2020.

A total of 20% of this would come from the group’s overseas investment, Wang said.

Currently, the group’s main revenue stems from property development, but a transformation plan – the group’s fourth to date – is underway.

“We will announce the plan on Jan 17. It will entail four main directions, namely culture, tourism, finance and e-commerce,” he said.

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