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Tuesday November 13th 2018

Empire Of The Sun| 1987

Empire Of The Sun filming location: the Bund, Shanghai
Empire Of The Sun location: the Bund, Shanghai | Photograph: wikimedia / TheDarkCurrent

Steven Spielberg’s epic, based on JG Ballard’s autobiographical novel, has Christian Bale as Jamie Graham, a boy surviving on his wits after being separated from his parents during the WWII Japanese invasion of Shanghai. It was filmed largely on location in Shanghai, and in Spain.

The colonial family home in Shanghai, did film in that city's English settlement. The style was so similar to stockbroker belt England that it proved possible to shoot interiors in a bungalow at Sunningdale, on the A30 between Egham and Camberley, on the exotic Berkshire/Surrey border, southwest of London.

Empire Of The Sun filming location: Legh Road, Knutsford, Cheshire
Empire Of The Sun location: the ‘Shanghai’ bungalow: Legh Road, Knutsford, Cheshire

The exterior of the Graham family bungalow, from which Jamie watches as the family property is removed, can be seen on Legh Road in Knutsford, Cheshire, in the northwest of England. The famously eccentric turn-of-the-century Italianate (for want of a better word) houses were designed by glove manufacturer and architect-wannabe Richard Harding Watt.

The Cheshire village of Knutsford seems to attract Hollywood epics – it’s also featured in Patton, with George C Scott as the larger-than-life General.

The downtown Shanghai scenes were filmed in the old colonial financial district overlooking the Huangpu River waterfront, then a virtually unchanged area of the city, where Spielberg coordinated the enormous crowd scenes of mass panic around the Bund (now called the Zhongshan Dongyilu).

Empire Of The Sun filming location: Peace Hotel, the Bund, Shanghai
Empire Of The Sun location: Jamie signals to the Japanese fleet: Peace Hotel, the Bund, Shanghai | Photograph: wikimedia / Georgio

The hotel, from which Jamie signals to the Japanese warship, is the Fairmont Peace Hotel, which in the Forties was called the Cathay. This grand deco building, dating from the Twenties, with its distinctive pyramid roof, is at 20 Nanjiang Dong Lu (Nanjing Street). One of the famous stopovers for the English abroad, it was here that Noël Coward wrote Private Lives.

The bridge, clogged with panicking crowds below the hotel, is the Waibaidu Bridge over Suzhou Creek, flowing into the Huangpu by Huangpu Park, the small green area once notoriously barred to the native Chinese.

See more of Shanghai, including the Bund illiminated at night, in JJ Abrams' Mission: Impossible 3.

The Japanese detention centre filmed inside part of the huge, abandoned gasworks complex at Beckton on the Thames in East London, where Stanley Kubrick famously filmed the ‘Vietnam’ scenes for Full Metal Jacket.

The ‘Japanese’ prison camp set was built near Jerez, 80 miles northwest of Seville in southwest Spain.