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Wonder-full China
A short scenic film about China that has been dazzling visitors to Walt Disney World in Florida, the United States, since 1982 is to be updated to showcase many new changes in the nation.

Wonders of China has been on show at the Epcot Center in a 360 degree cinema that makes viewers feel they are seeing sights first-hand, as if they are in the country itself.

"There has been a lot of changes in China over the past 20 years," said David Katzman, a director of production of Walt Disney Imagineering.

"We are looking forward to working with the Chinese Government to give Walt Disney World guests a glimpse of modern China."

In early September, a crew of American filmmakers and their Chinese counterparts from the China Research Institute of Film Science Technology began filming in Beijing, the first leg of their two-month trip, to capture new footage in seven Chinese cities.

Fresh Spots

To add "modern elements," the crew have been quite sensitive in choosing locations to shoot.

In Beijing, the footage of Beihai Park, the Great Wall and Tian'anmen Square will be renewed.

There is one scene of Nine-Dragon Wall (Jiulongbi), which is located inside Beihai Park.

"The reason we are filming the Nine-Dragon Wall again is because 20 years ago most people were walking past it in blue and gray. Now people are dressed more colorfully," said director Jeff Blyth, who also directed the film 20 years ago.

The film will include some major additions such as footage of Hong Kong and Macao, which returned to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

In a bid to provide fresh views of city life of modern China, the crew will capture new footage of Shanghai, which has been transformed as a city.

The footage of Shanghai will include scenes on the Bund and the Nanjing Road.

"We are also doing small images of places such as the People's Park, some areas in Pudong, all those banks and the Stock Market. Many Westerners do not know Shanghai has a stock market like New York, and the film will give them a surprise," said Steve Spiegel, show writer at Disney who wrote the play of the new version.

Over the following two months, the crew will also go to Urumqi, the capital city of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

There they will screen a wonderful night market featuring a distinctive style of minority people in the autonomous region, to give the audience a better understanding of the diversity of China.

But it is a tough mission to include in seven minutes all the changes China has gone through over the past 20 years, because the changes have been so unimaginably great.

Blyth, the director, was deeply impressed with what he saw 20 years ago -- and what he can now see 20 years later.

"I noticed that young people are taller, they are healthier, they are happier. I just see a general enthusiasm in people.

"In the early 1980s, there were not many tourists from the United States in China, so people who come to see the film will say 'Oh, it is China'."

But in the past 10 years, more and more American and European tourists have been to the Far East. Those who had their own experience of China felt unsatisfied with what they saw in the film.

According to Blyth, people would ask questions such as: "Have you seen Shanghai lately? It has been changing, not like what's in your film."

Meanwhile, the number of Chinese tourists is also increasing. They were also unsatisfied with the scenes shown in the film.

According to Guo Zhong, government relations manager at Disney's Beijing Representative Office, a tabloid in Beijing even charged the film as "uglifying China" in a story published a couple of months ago.

Disney, of course, has long realized the problem.

The Chinese Government also expects the film shown at the world-class entertainment and recreation destination will reflect a real and more modern China to draw more visitors.

Cooperation seemed natural as a result and it won their full support.

Great Changes

"The biggest difference is that 20 years ago we had permission to film on these locations, but people did not really understand what we were doing. We did not get as much cooperation as we are getting now," said Blyth, adding that people did not even understand what the camera could do.

But 20 years later, the camera is no longer a novelty.

"There is no technical problem at all during cooperation," said Li Shuping, senior engineer at the Film Science and Technology Institute. But Li admitted there had been "minor friction" because of different styles in how Americans and Chinese do business.

Over the past several years, Li's institute has shot several Circle-Vision films of their own.

Although China of 20 years ago was rather backward, Blyth liked the country after he finished shooting Wonders of China.

Back in the United States, he named his company "Mei Guan Xi," which means "It doesn't matter" in Chinese.

Two years ago, Blyth came back to China to work on a documentary film of the world heritage sites in China.

The differences of just two years, said Blyth, are already significant.

"I know it is a time of great changes in China. Every time I came back to China, it is almost a different country which has reinvented itself," said Blyth.

"In 1949, Mao said that the Chinese people had stood up. By 1982, the Chinese people were walking, and this year the Chinese people are running at full speed," the director joked.

With the nine cameras he uses to shoot the Circle-Vision film, Blyth hopes to share these vivid experiences with viewers, and two American tourists he met in the elevator of a Beijing hotel boosted his confidence.

When the tourists knew that Blyth and his colleagues were here to work on the film Wonders of China, they said: "We watched that film and although it has taken us 15 years to come here, we wanted to visit China on the basis of that one film."

Blyth said: "That is very typical. A lot of people saw the film and decided to come to China 20 years ago."

In the old film, actors were employed to act as casual tourists: two sisters, a nuclear family, a group of primary students guided by a teacher, an old couple and two lovers whispering to each other on a bench.

Li Bai, a renowned poet in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) who "narrated" the original Wonders of China film, will remain the narrator of the new version to remind people of the country's splendid ancient culture.

The new version is scheduled to premiere in the cinema at the Epcot Center next July.

(China Daily September 18, 2002)

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