Thursday 14 July 2011

Famous blockbusters filmed in Northern Thailand ... a surprising list!

It’s easy to see why tourists come to northern Thailand's Lanna region: evocative temples, lively markets, cloud-scraping mountains, vibrant summer, nippy winter, and the soothing mix of small-town charm and budding, hip neighbourhoods. 

In sum, it’s romantic. But for Hollywood filmmakers, from Ridley Scott and Barry Levinson to Sylvester Stallone (or Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone as his mother calls him when she's angry), the pull of the area is not its romanticism but its practicality – the combination of accessible jungle, tame elephants, and the ease in which it can be transformed by movie magic into somewhere resembling, mostly, Vietnam.

Levinson arrived here in 1987 with Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker to shoot the comedy Good Morning Vietnam, about a military DJ who injects sparkle into jaded GIs, with Chiang Mai standing in for Saigon circa 1965. The movie also stars the famous and not completely uncute Thai actress, Jintara Sukapat (a regular face on local Thai TV). Three years later, Mel Gibson (or Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson as his mother calls him when she's angry) landed with Robert Downey Jr, for the filming of Air America, a Vietnam-era military drama about a pilot recruited for a special CIA mission.

These two films generated much interest in film circles for using northern Thailand as a location, even though nobody in the movie-watching public really knew it was Amazing Thailand. More recently, two big American productions have done a little more justice to the city by at least setting their plots in northern Thailand, as opposed to a stand-in Saigon

In 2007, Ridley Scott came with Denzel Washington to shoot American Gangster, in which the Oscar-winning actor plays a heroine dealer seeking a deal with a drug lord of unidentified nationality in the Golden Triangle. Rambo 4 (2008), meanwhile, has actor and director Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo) living a hermetic existence in the jungle, catching snakes and brooding and swearing, before missionaries hire him to lead a danger-filled expedition into Burma (it was, of course, not shot in Burma).

On a much smaller scale, a number of made-for video flicks have been shot in the region, including Sniper 3, starring Tom Berenger as a lone soldier working for the secret service, and Vampires: The Turning, whose title is explanation enough.

Like the northern Thailand scenery itself, that list is breathtakingly impressive, jing jing. 

Footnote: thanks to Kong Rithdee (Lanna 101 magazine) for his expert input into this piece.

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