The magical world of Neverland has been created using footage of some of Vietnam’s most famous natural landscapes, but few moviegoers would know that the Southeast Asian country has lent its beauty to the movie that hit theaters globally this month.
The world renowned, breathtaking beauty of Ha Long Bay and En Cave were filmed to serve the 3D rendering of Neverland in Pan, a US$150 million Warner Bros. Pictures film, but Vietnam is never mentioned in documents used to promote the movie.
Tourism experts and businesses have called it “an opportunity wasted,” as the country would have been able to use the free publicity to remind the world of its beauty.
Ha Long Bay is a famous attraction in the northern province of Quang Ninh, while En (Swallow) Cave sits around two kilometers from the famed Son Doong Cave in the UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in the north-central province of Quang Binh.
A scene capturing a paddy field in the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in the northern province of Ninh Binh is also featured in the film, theatrically released in the U.S. on October 9.
This scene from Pan was created using real footage shot in Ninh Binh.
Local cinephiles only knew that Pan had shot some of its scenes at these attractions after Hugh Jackman, who plays ruthless pirate Blackbeard, let the cat out of the bag in an interview as part of the movie’s promotional campaign.
“If you watch the movie Pan, you’re gonna see two shots in the world of Neverland, most of which are done with CGI but [there are] two real shots both from Vietnam,” Jackman told Kathy Uyen, an American-Vietnamese actress, in a promotional event in Hong Kong.
The entrance to En Cave in Quang Binh. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Chau A, general director of tour operator Oxalis, admitted that viewers can hardly recognize the scenes of Ha Long Bay and En Cave after they have been turned into Neverland using computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Oxalis is the sole tourism agency licensed by the Quang Binh administration to bring tourists to Son Doong Cave and other grottos in the province.
“We didn’t know that Vietnam would be included in the promotional activities of Pan, so we did not put the issue on the table while discussing with the film crew,” A said on his Facebook on September 29.
A said this is a lesson learnt for when other big productions shoot in Vietnam.
Pan’s production crew had reportedly only said they would film a documentary in these destinations when obtaining a license from authorities, so the Vietnamese side did not request that they mention the country in promotional activities, according to a source close to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
International film crews have to seek permission or a license from Vietnamese authorities if they want to shoot in the country, as per current regulations.
However, those bodies in charge of granting such a license have several rigid requirements for filmmakers and tend to “care about their own interests and benefits while ignoring the chance to promote the country’s tourism,” an industry insider said.
“The authorities send officials to supervise the filming by the foreign production crew, and require that they earmark $200 a day to pay them,” Bui Viet Thuy Tien, director of Asian Trails, told Tuoi Tre.
“As a shoot may take more than ten days to film, not many film crews will accept an extra cost of over $2,000.”
Tien said the authorities turn down all requests to exempt such a ‘supervision cost’, and many end up scrapping their plan to shoot in Vietnam.
“The country therefore misses another chance to promote its beauty to the world,” Tien said.
A breathtaking view of the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh. Photo: Ly An Khang
Ngo Minh Duc, director of Huong Giang Travel, is facing the same problem.
The company has called on the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) to support a production crew of more than 300 members, who plan to film in Ha Long Bay and some other destinations.
“We have tried to persuade the VNAT that this is a big opportunity to present Vietnam to the world, but the administration insists that all requirements be followed,” Duc lamented.