Penang Happenings | George Town-Prime Filming Location
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George Town-Prime Filming Location

George Town is a historical city that is rich in culture and lavish in visual splendour, which makes it a perfect go-to location for filmmakers. Although the city has enjoyed playing dress-up for a number of films, the city – and to an extent Malaysia as a whole – is still massively underrated in terms of filming locations.

The colonial streets that run through the recently restored Heritage Area – most notably locations such as Armenian Street, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Penang Town Hall that look straight out of vintage colonial postcards – can give films a richly unique historical look that can pass off – and indeed has doubled before – for other colonial areas from past eras. Period films like 1999’s Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, Ang Lee’s 2007 espionage thriller Lust, Caution and the 1992 Oscar-winning Indochine have successfully dressed George Town up as past-eras Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Saigon, respectively. Even the 2007 docudrama Road to Dawn revolving around famed Chinese Revolutionist Dr. Sun Yat-Sen successfully transformed George Town into a character of its own, as a mysterious, yet living, urban atmosphere that helped sow the seeds of destiny for Dr. Sun. The streets and colonial landscape may also inspire filmmakers to create a noirish thriller, where the dark and mysterious streets may add to the hero’s plight – or may ultimately save them. The streets may also be used in hard-hitting action sequences, in a James Bond-esque chase scene involving multiple vehicles, with the George Town backdrop adding a uniquely historical flair to the adrenaline.

Recently, there has been a popular outcrop of romantic comedy-dramas of the Chinese-language variety utilizing George Town as a scenic tourist hotspot, or a place rich in cultural familial ties. 2014’s local blockbuster The Journey uses its panoramic cinematography to capture spectacular views of the Penang Bridge as well as Chew Jetty during a mesmerizing celebration sequence set during the Hokkien New Year, while 2010’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love uses the latter as an important turning point for the main characters’ relationship. The students of Han Chiang College, a Penang-based Mass Communications College, also frequently use Chew Jetty as a popular filming location for their projects. However, the location has yet to be used place of intrigue and danger, in the style of a Hitchcockian thriller where two enemies face each other on the pier with the waters raging below, or a detective thriller where the protagonist meets his mysterious witness by the jetty. As such, the location is still ripe for potential in many film genres.

Whether George Town “acts” as an idealized or fantasy foreign land, or as itself – a beautifully diverse city that stands out boldly amongst other scenic Malaysian locations – its cinematic visual potency knows no bounds, one that has yet to be truly immortalized on the silver screen.

Major motion pictures also filmed in George Town

  • Fifty/Fifty (1992) [dir. Charles Martin Smith]
  • Paradise Road (1997) [dir. Bruce Beresford]
  • The Touch (天脈傳奇) (2002) [dir. Peter Pau]
  • Indian Summers (2015 TV Series)
  • Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)
  • Gap Year a.k.a. Foreign Bodies (2017 TV series)
  • You Mean the World to Me (新路) (2017) [dir. Saw Teong Hin]