Tang Dynasty City
Text by Eugene Tan
Touted as Singapore's own Universal Studios, Tang Dynasty City was intended to be a 'movie town' where films would be produced, as well as a theme park for the whole family. Merging the cultural and commercial domains in a single vision, its stakeholders intended for the project to transform Jurong and kick-start Singapore's film industry.
Announced in May 1988 and opened in January 1992, Tang Dynasty City (or Tang Dynasty Village, as it was known) cost $70 million to put together. Expected to draw 900,000 visitors and turnover about $20 million a year, the movie-town cum theme-park was partly modelled after Hong Kong's Sung Dynasty Village, an attraction built in 1979 featuring folk villages and cultural offerings from the Song era of China. Its owner, Mr Deacon Chiu of Far East Holdings International was eager to recreate Sung Village's success at Tang Dynasty City, as well as transfer film production capabilities at Asia Television (a company at which he was Chairman) from Hong Kong to Singapore, igniting its Chinese movie industry.
Mr Chiu's vision was a convincing one which promised to have long term, wide-reaching benefits for Singapore beyond that of a regular amusement park. The Tang Dynasty project was supported by the Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore Tourism Promotion Board, Ministry of Community Development, and the Economic Development Board which gave Chiu's Far East Holdings a 10-year tax holiday for the project.
Tang Dynasty City featured three movie production studios, the first for Asia Television outside of Hong Kong. Even before the City was complete, Tang Dynasty Village Motion Pictures Pte Ltd, a movie production company, was set up to begin writing and planning for movies and TV shows to be produced on site. One of the first films to be completed at the studios was to be Legend of a Beauty (一代天骄), which starred Chen Tianwen and Hong Kong star Michelle Yim.
Mr Chiu explained that the Tang era (AD 618-908) was particularly appealing to him. The replica city at Jurong was intended to reflect the spirit and features of that era's culture, providing tourists from Europe and the United States with a chance to appreciate a relatively new entertainment concept. In planning for Tang Dynasty City, Mr Chiu undertook many study trips to Xi'an (Chang'an city in ancient times) and also discussed his plans Chinese history professors, artists and engineers.
The main buildings in Tang Dynasty City included a fate tower, the Huaching Pool, an underground palace, Buddhist temples, inns, tea houses and fortune-telling stalls. There were also acrobats performing, 'official' and 'commoner' residences. stone bridges, as well as ox carts and horse carriages designed to be identical to those used during the Tang era.
There were over 700 clay replicas of the terracotta warriors, as well as a 3-metre high wood carving of the Goddess of Mercy. Couples could also have their wedding at Tang Dynasty City, replete with a sedan chair and horse procession. One live segment featured a maiden impersonating Yang Gui Fei, one of the four renowned beauties of ancient China, taking a bath in the Huaching Lake. Another live action feature had actors dressed as ancient swordsmen, hanging from cables and soaring through the air in battles of vengeance and honour.
This was not intended to be it for the Jurong area, Mr Deacon Chiu was also planning a hotel next to Tang Dynasty City, while tie-ins between the Jurong Bird Park and Reptile Park were just taking shape. Despite the fanfare and significant financial investments, a combination of the Asian financial crisis, high admission fees and lacklustre exhibits led to Tang Dynasty City's closure in 1999.
The defunct Tang Dynasty City was about to get a new lease on life in April 2007 when a consortium of three Singaporean companies announced plans to build a Shaolin-style health retreat there, modelled after the famed temple and monastery in China. But that was abruptly canned when landlord Jurong Town Corporation put out notice seeking contractors to carry out the demolition works.
Tang Dynasty City well and truly became a thing of the past when it is was levelled in January 2008. The plot of land remains vacant today although speculation surrounding its future surfaces intermittently; this includes the possibility of a third integrated resort (IR) on the site.