Scenes from the movies: Shanghai’s 5 most cinematic spots

Scenes from the movies: Shanghai’s 5 most cinematic spots

As a tribute to Shanghai's ongoing 15th International Film Festival, we chase down the Shanghai locations that have inspired decades of movies

Shanghai has been everything to a world of directors, from muse to milieu. It’s not surprising that the city’s dramatic alleyways, tree-lined avenues, iconic skyline and grand architecture are fodder for directors and cinephiles alike.

In the spirit of the current Shanghai International Film Festival (which runs until June 24), we're celebrating a century of Shanghai in the movies with a quick tour of its most recognizable film locales:

1. 1933

Shanghai 1933As an abattoir-turned-creative zone, this building itself is a story for filmmakers.No longer used as a slaughterhouse, 1933, once the largest abattoir in Asia, is now known for its industrial architecture and its cameo in the Chinese propaganda film “Da Li, Xiao Li, Lao Li” (1962).

In the film, 1933 is where abundant food rations and stores were located. 

Chosen by Historic Shanghai's president Patrick Cranley as a favorite, it is currently used as a center of creative arts and events: an example of cinematic legacy being passed on to the new generations.

It also gets bonus film points for looking like the set of the next David Lynch film.

1933 (1933老场坊), 10 Shajing Lu, near Jiulong Lu 沙泾路10号, 近九龙路

2. Dingxiang Garden

Dingxiang GardensOne of the best-kept Chinese style gardens in Shanghai.It is a small sea of green now, with a pond and restaurant that hardly betrays its past, but Dingxiang Gardens' grass-strewn grounds used to be a busy Shanghai film studio during the 1920s and 1930s.

Those studios are gone now, but Shanghai-based author and historian Paul French likes the nostalgia.

“I like to stroll around there imagining some of the great old stars of Shanghai film working there,” he says.

Dingxiang Garden (丁香花园), 849 Huashan Lu, nearing Fuxing Xi Lu 华山路849号, 近复兴西路

More on CNNGo: 5 places to feel that 1930s historic Shanghai vibe

3. The Bund

The Bund A quintessential view for any Shanghai-related movie.It has been featured in everything from Stephen Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” (the first Hollywood production to do so post-World War II), to Ang Lee’s "Lust, Caution."

Since the city's effort to make the river-side pedestrian avenue wider two years ago, the Western architecture of the Bund is even more spectacular to explore.

“Its even kind of looking like it did during the first heyday,” says Katherine Sima of the Shanghai International Film Club, who has her own favorite movie moment.

“Whenever I look at the Bund I always think about the scene in 'The Spring River Flows East,' when Bai Yang commits suicide by jumping in the Huangpu [River].”

Anywhere on the Bund

4. Zhapu Lu

Zhapu Lu Shanghai's lesser-known gangster side.The corner of Zhapu Lu and Haining Lu is notable for being the former home of the Ramos Hongkew Theater (built in 1908), representative of the first of Shanghai movie theaters run by Spanish showman Antonio Ramos.

With its blinking lights, narrow alleys, and the pungent smell of street food and alcohol, the area also seems like a living, breathing film set straight out of a 1930s mobster flick.

“I think that the chaos and vibrancy of Zhapu Lu at night gives a good idea of Shanghai's spirit,” says Maria Barbieri, of Shanghai International Film Club.

Zhapu Lu, near Haining Lu 乍浦路, 近海宁路

5. Pudong Lujiazui Skyline

Pudong skylineA skyline born to be destroyed ... in movies.
Tom Cruise shot baseballs off it in "Mission Impossible III," and an asteroid destroyed it in "Armageddon," but Shanghai's iconic skyline keeps coming back for more.

We'll admit adding Lujiazui to this list is a bit of a cheat since it encompasses roughly 20 buildings, but it’s difficult to deny that Pudong has made its cinematic mark, mostly by being destroyed -- although it was featured (no destruction in sight) in David Lynch’s cinematic Dior ad.

Zao Xikang, an avid action film lover, who admires the skyline from the Bund, says this about Pudong’s destructibility: “It looks like blocks ready to knock over.”

Best viewing spots: Really anywhere on the Bund. But if you want to view in class, try the views from Vue Bar, The Peninsula, M on the Bund or New Heights (at Three on the Bund)

More on CNNGo: Shanghai's most literary locales

Originally published June 2010. Updated June 2012.