See China's Answer to the Hollywood Sign

Wanda Studios in Qingdao, China- David Hogsholt-Publicity-EMBED 2- 2016
David Hogsholt

High above Wanda's $8.2 billion Qingdao Movie Metropolis sits a giant sign that the company hopes will become as iconic as the celebrated Los Angeles landmark.

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, headed by Asia's richest man, Wang Jianlin, is building the world's largest film studio on China's eastern coast, about 300 miles north of Shanghai. But to truly compete with Hollywood, Wanda needed more than just a world-class filmmaking facility — it needed a sign.

The seaside city of Qingdao is known to most Americans as the home of Tsingtao beer, but that may be about to change. Wanda, a real estate company attempting an aggressive transition into global entertainment, has invested $8.2 billion to construct the filmmaking facility in the city. Dubbed the Wanda Qingdao Movie Metropolis, the finished project will span 408 acres and comprise 45 state-of-the-art soundstages, including the world's largest, as well as China's biggest indoor and outdoor water tanks (for an inside look at the studio, see here).

Overlooking it all, perched on the upper portion of a rocky mountaintop Wanda calls "Movie Metropolis Hill," sits a gigantic sign made of four Chinese characters in white: ????. In translation, they read: "Movie Metropolis of the East."

"You can see it from almost anywhere you are in the studio," says Morgan Hunwicks, a Canadian and a production veteran who spent 10 years working at Fox Studios in Sydney before joining Wanda Studios Qingdao as head of production. "The idea, obviously, is our version of the Hollywood sign," he says. "It's taller, but [not as long as] the Hollywood one."

Whether Wanda's Qingdao sign will become an iconic landmark like its counterpart across the Pacific — which has overlooked Los Angeles since 1923 — remains to be seen. But Wanda is certainly trying to make it so: To lure Hollywood projects to its studio, the company has set up on of the world's most lucrative production incentives, a 40 percent rebate for qualifying film and TV projects that shoot there. And in an effort to make the area a comfortable working environment for international film professionals, Wanda is building luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, condos, a marina, a hospital and more atop a giant artificial island out in the Yellow Sea beside the studio site.

"It's fun to be a part of a project that was built from the ground up," added Hunwicks. "During my time at Fox, I think the most we ever built was a storage shed, because the studio had been around for a while and was in an existing footprint — there's just no space. But here the horizon is the limit."