Filmmakers have frequently used Asian landscapes to transport movie viewers to other worlds. The stunning mountains, waterways, rainforests, and ancient sites are a dream for a location scout and for travelers.
If you are traveling to Asia this year and want to get a sneak peek of a destination, here are some great films to watch before leaving:
The Rescue – 2021
This documentary focuses on the cave rescue that occurred in northern Thailand in 2018. Twelve boys and their coach were extracted from a flooded cave in one of the most perilous rescue operations in history. The story held the world captive as expert cave divers showed the lengths some people will go through to help others.
The documentary includes real footage from the rescue itself. The movie’s producers spent two years trying to convince the divers to release the images. During the pandemic, the Thai Navy Seals agreed to share 87 hours of video.
In addition to this footage, the film features supplementary video from four countries – the U.S., U.K., Thailand and Australia – to document the lives of the divers. Overall, it is an inspirational film coming on the heels of the pandemic.
Star Wars III – Revenge of the Sith – 2005
Aerial scenes for the big Battle of Kashyyyk in this movie were shot in Phang Nga Bay. The filmmakers utilized the limestone karst formations near Thailand’s island of Phuket to create their vision of another planet. Filmmakers darkened the landscape to make the stunning scenery more ominous as clone troopers turned their weapons on Jedi commanding officers.
Other scenes in this movie were shot in Switzerland, China and Italy.
Man with the Golden Gun – 1974 & Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997
Both of these James Bond movies have scenes in Bangkok, though in Tomorrow Never Dies the city is used to represent Saigon. In both movies, chase scenes race through the city streets and even in the Khlong Dan canal.
Filmmakers also utilized the open-air Muang Boran Museum, which is the world’s largest private outdoor museum. The 300-acre site showcases Thailand’s ancient culture. Filmmakers used the Dvaravati House on the property to make a fictional martial arts school for the 1974 Bond movie.
Ms. Marvel – 2022
You’ll have to wait for this miniseries, which is expected to be released later this year on Disney+. It features a Muslim lead character and many Asians in the cast. Episodes 4 and 5 of the show were shot in Thailand.
The story centers on a New Jersey-raised teenager who realizes she has special powers. Production crews constructed some sets for the miniseries southeast of Bangkok, and then got a waiver to shoot during the pandemic.
In addition to these movies above, there are also a number of famous R-rated movies that were at least partially shot in Thailand. This includes Good Morning, Vietnam with Robin Williams, Rambo I and III with Sylvester Stallone and The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – 2001
This movie features a few temples in Cambodia’s Angkor region. The most prominent shots come about 40 minutes into the film when the lead character Lara Croft arrives at the Ta Prohm temple.
The jungle has partially swallowed up this temple with roots growing out of the ruins. This provides some great shots as Angelina Jolie, who plays Croft, wanders around the temple. Among the more memorable scenes are moments when walks by large trees that are intertwined with the ruins.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 2011
The same region of Cambodia is used for this movie. In this case, the movie shows rockets being fired from Ta Prohm.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This movie was filmed in the United States, including the U.S. Virginia Islands, Canada, India and Cambodia. The sequence in Asia occurred because the film’s director David Fincher realized the travel plans of two key people worked in his favor.
Actor Brad Pitt, who played Benjamin Button, was scheduled to be in Southeast Asia at the same time as Indian director Tarsem Singh. Therefore, arrangements were made for Singh to take handheld footage of Benjamin Button backpacking through Cambodia and India, contributing to one of the more poignant moments in the film.
Lord Jim – 1965
You may have never heard of this movie that stars Peter O’Toole. It is based on a Joseph Conrad novel. It also features scenes from the temples of Angkor, including Angkor Wat. It’s believed the movie was the first big foreign film to be made in Cambodia.
Unfortunately there were many production problems during the filming, leaving O’Toole to complain about his time spent in the region. Of note though, Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran, whose life was featured in The Killing Fields, served as a translator during production.
Kong: Skull Island – 2017
Portions of this movie were shot in the Trang An Landscape Complex and Ha Long Bay, which Rustic students see during the Hanoi to Ha Long program. Parts of the set remained in the area until they were dismantled two years later. The set included tents and tools that were part of a fictional tribal village in the film. Sequences for this movie were also shot in Hawaii and in Australia.
The Last Airbender – 2010
Okay – a number of people consider this movie to be pretty bad, but others say that it is so bad it is good. Regardless, much of the film was shot in Greenland and the United States, but exteriors of the Earth village were filmed in Vietnam. This gives Vietnam a share of the credit for this somewhat campy movie.
Pan – 2015
If you want to see Neverland, you can travel to Vietnam. Several stunning natural scenes in the movie were filmed in the country, including shots of Ha Long Bay and Trang An. The movie crew also filmed footage in Hang En, which is the third largest cave in the world and is located in PhongNha Park.
Unfortunately, the movie’s producers did not give Vietnam any credits in the film. There were some legal difficulties that led the producers to work-around some of the standard shooting permissions, and that change meant no credits were given.
The Story of the Weeping Camel – 2003
This German and Mongolian film was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Documentary at the 77th Academy Awards. The story centers on a family of nomadic shepherds who live in the Gobi Desert. Throughout the film, they are trying to save a rare white Mongolian camel calf that was rejected by its mother.
Babies – 2010
This documentary centers on the very different ways that four babies are cared for in their first year of life in four countries – Mongolia, Namibia, Japan and the United States. The Mongolian family featured live in a yurt in Bayanchandmani, Mongolia that’s located in the north central part of the country. The filmmakers showcase the region’s scenery and the animals that are a huge part of life in the area.
Human Part 1 – 2015
This documentary includes breathtaking aerial footage from Mongolia, along with dozens of other countries. It encompasses an effort to show the differences and similarities of people across the globe.
Slumdog Millionaire – 2008
Many films have been shot in India, but this one was the honor of winning the Best Picture Academy Award in 2009. The film includes extensive scenes in Mumbai, and centers on the story of an impoverished young boy who ends up on a game show.
Life of Pi – 2012
Special effects are used to make many of the other-worldly aspects of this award-winning film. It also includes a number of scenes shot in India. This includes shots of the hills and tea gardens in Munnar in the Western Ghats mountain range.
Everest – 2014
This historical adventure film focuses on a 1996 expedition to scale Mount Everest that ended in disaster. The film crew spent about a month shooting in Nepal, capturing both the beauty and the hazards of this magnificent mountain. The movie was a commercial success earning more than $200 million dollars.
Aside from these films, there are other movies that focus on aspects of life in these countries, though some of them were shot in other places. If you have a favorite movie for any of these nations, please share it in the comments.