For decades now, Macao has provided the perfect backdrop for filmmakers from across the globe. Big budget flicks and artistic masterpieces have been shot in the SAR due its glitzy and gritty locations. We choose our favourite movies which were entirely – or at least partly – filmed in our picturesque city.
With its 16th century Portuguese architecture, cobblestone–covered sidewalks and glitzy resorts, Macao serves as a great backdrop for any movie. And, over the decades, it’s done just that. Filmmakers from across the globe have headed to the SAR to go on location with their crew and cast in a bid to make masterpieces which may or may not be based on Macao at all. In fact, as access to China was once heavily restricted, many Hollywood blockbusters include scenes where the audience think they’re on the Mainland when actually they are in Macao.
To celebrate our charming city as an iconic film location, we have chosen seven movies that have been shot in Macao over the past 30 years. These are some of the best feature length films that have used the territory as a location and they hail from places like Europe, Asia and even Macao itself. Of course, these movies include scenes that were actually shot in Macao rather than recreating the city in a studio like, say, 2012 Bond thriller ‘Skyfall’ did, which saw its Macao scenes filmed at the UK’s Pinewood Studios. In short, the following films were all or in part made in Macao – and they each helped put the city on the international movie map.
Amor e Dedinhos de Pé (1992)
Director: Luís Filipe Rocha
Starring: Joaquim de Almeida, Ana Torrent, Jean–Pierre Cassel
The film: Literally translating to ‘Love and Tiny Toes’, this period drama, set in Macao in 1897, was based on a Portuguese book by Macanese writer Henrique de Senna Fernandes. It follows Francisco Frontaria, played by Joaquim de Almeida, who is a boozing, irresponsible young man who insults the shy daughter of a prominent family, leading to his ostracisation and destitution. Months later, however, the pair meet once again with the roles much reversed.
Macao locations: Most of the movie was filmed in Macao. One notable scene was shot at Lou Lim Ieoc Garden.
Director: Johnnie To
Starring: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Chau–Sang Wong, Simon Yam, Sylvie Testud
Languages: English, French and Cantonese
The film: John Hallyday plays a French former assassin-turned–chef who heads to Macao to seek revenge for the death of his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. He enlists three local hitmen to help him on his quest.
Macao locations: Most of the movie – a French–Hong Kong co–production – was shot in Macao between November 2008 and January 2009, with just a few scenes filmed in our sister SAR.
The Thieves (2012)
Director: Choi Dong–hoon
Starring: Kim Yoon–seok, Lee Jung–jae, Kim Hye–soo, Jun Ji–hyun, Simon Yam
Language: Korean, Japanese, English, Mandarin and Cantonese
The film: Ranked the sixth highest grossing film in South Korean film history, this heist film features an ensemble cast and follows a group of crooks as they try to steal a fictitious diamond worth US$30 million they call the ‘Tear of the Sun’.
Macao locations: The majority of the heist action in this film was shot in Macao – specifically Cotai Strip, which serves as the background when one of the characters scales a resort. Once again the Sanva Hotel makes an appearance due to its inimitable atmosphere and the poster image itself was taken at Rua da Felicidade.
The Last Time I Saw
Directors: João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata
Starring: Lydie Barbara, João Rui Guerra da Mata, João Pedro Rodrigues, Cindy Scrash
The film: Originally titled ‘A Última Vez Que Vi Macau’, this Portuguese flick tells the story of a man who, after receiving a call from an old friend who tells him that she’s in some sort of trouble, travels from Lisbon to Macao to check up on her. At the same time, the trip allows him to reconnect with his origins in the SAR and reminisce on the best times of his life.
Macao locations: The entire film was set and shot in Macao. The city streets and alleys are as much a part of the story as the characters themselves.
Passing Rain (2017)
Director: Chan Ka Keong
Starring: Doug Chan Kin Tak, Dicky Tsang, Wang Ping, Candice Lam
Language: Cantonese and Mandarin
The film: A fine film made in Macao that showcases the city through an authentic lens rather than presenting it as glitzy. Even local dishes are given screentime in this honest and deep production that focuses on six characters and the gamut of emotions they go through. ‘Passing Rain’ premiered at Macao’s 2017 International Film Festival and Awards after it had taken Chan, who received an MOP 1.5 million grant for the project from the government in 2014, four years to complete. He did a lot on his own, including the scheduling and logistics.
Macao locations: Every single scene was shot in Macao.
Hotel Império (2018)
Director: Ivo Ferreira
Starring: Margarida Vila–Nova, Rhydian Vaughan, Tiago Aldeia
Language: Portuguese, Cantonese and English
The film: Meaning ‘Empire Hotel’ in English, this Portuguese movie stars Margarida Vila–Nova as Maria, a young woman who operates, with her father, a rundown motel that’s seen better days. The duo get kind offers to buy the property which gradually become threats as they keep on refusing. Soon Maria’s ex–boyfriend is on the scene and there’s trouble in the air.
Macao locations: All the scenes were shot in Macao.
A City Called Macau (2019)
Director: Li Shaohong
Starring: Bai Baihe, Wu Gang, Huang Jue, Geng Le
The film: Released just over 12 months ago, Chinese drama ‘A City Called Macau’ is a tale of misplaced affection and gambling addiction set in the SAR between the early 2000s and 2014, when the gaming industry was quickly overtaking that of Las Vegas and casino brokers were emerging. Mei Xiao-ou, played by Bai Baihe, is a financial agent from Beijing who maintains long–term relationships with her wealthy clients by providing them with loans. But her clients quickly become gambling addicts.
Macao locations: Every scene was shot in Macao.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Twelve other movies either entirely or partly shot in Macao
Caminhos Longos (1955) Meaning ‘Long Paths’ in English, this Portuguese film, directed by Eurico Ferreira, a man credited with helping to start the Mozambican film industry, vanished after its initial release in Macao and has never been found. Those who did see it say it was a romantic story with refugees and revolution.
Ferry to Hong Kong (1959) Directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Orson Welles, this British melodrama has it all: typhoons, drunks, pirates and English cads.
Fist of Fury (1972) Bruce Lee is synonymous with Asian cinema and a couple of scenes from this classic Hong Kong martial arts movie were filmed in Macao.
Game Of Death (1978) It’s all about that yellow jumpsuit. Lee and that costume also star in this iconic movie which features plenty of Macao, including the Ruins of St Paul’s.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) The second installment of arguably Hollywood’s finest adventure series. The opening scenes of this Steven Spielberg-directed flick were shot on location in Macao, which should have won an Oscar for its role as Shanghai.
Casino Tycoon (1992) This Hong Kong action drama that stars Andy Lau is said to be inspired by stories of businessman Stanley Ho, who is a key part of Macao’s history over recent decades.
Isabella (2006) Set in Macao, Hong Kong film ‘Isabella’ tells the tale of a local police officer whose bachelor life is interrupted by the daughter he never knew he had.
Exiled (2006) Another Hong Kong film set in Macao. This action drama produced and directed by Johnnie To is high octane and equipped with assassins, guns and gangsters.
Housefull (2010) This Indian Hindi-language comedy directed by Sajid Khan features a few scenes in Macao, including a memorable one at The Venetian Macao.
Johnny English Reborn (2011) British comedian Rowan Atkinson returned as the almost-James-Bond-like spy in this second film in the ‘Johnny English’ franchise. There are a few Macao scenes in the movie, including a sequence at the Grand Lisboa.
Unbeatable (2013) A Hong Kong-Chinese sports drama that focused on boxing. The setting of Macao was used as a backdrop for parts of the movie.
Sisterhood (2016) This Macao-Hong Kong drama directed by Tracy Choi and starring Gigi Leung includes the eve of Macao’s handover of administration to China, as well as scenes of the city from 15 years later. There’s plenty of emotion in this touching tale.
Four films you may have thought were made in Macao but were not…
Macao (1952) You may have thought this classic film noir starring Robert Mitchum was shot in Macao. It’s called ‘Macao’ and set in Macao. But the only actual shot of Macao is stock footage at the beginning. The rest of the movie was filmed in a studio.
The Immortal Story (1968) ‘Une Histoire Immortelle’ was also set in Macao but it was mostly shot in director Orson Welles’ home in Madrid, Spain. Any exterior shots depicting Macao were filmed in a town near Madrid called Chinchón. Chinese waiters in Madrid served as extras.
Skyfall (2012) ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ had scenes shot in Macao and later Bond thriller ‘Skyfall’ definitely nods towards the 1974 classic. But despite many believing some of the scenes in the 2012 flick were shot in the SAR, sadly they were all done in the UK’s Pinewood Studios. In one sequence, Daniel Craig as Bond enters Macao’s ‘Golden Dragon Casino’, which paints a pretty picture with a myriad of floating candles. Sadly, this does not exist in Macao but perhaps one day a resort may take inspiration from it. It would be a sight to behold.
Silence (2016) Martin Scorsese’ religious period flick ‘Silence’ is set in Japan but there are scenes in Macao and mentions of St Paul’s College too. Anyone thinking these scenes were made in Macao, however, is in for a surprise. And anyone thinking any sequence was shot in Japan is also in for a shock. The entire movie was filmed in Taiwan.
Five more films set in Macao over the past 50 years that you just have to watch
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
Director: Guy Hamilton
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams
The film: ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ was the ninth in the ‘James Bond’ series, starring Roger Moore as 007. The MI6 agent is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin while he tries to recover sensitive solar cell technology.
Macao locations: This was a special film for Macao. It was the first time Hollywood had sent a blockbuster cast and crew – including Moore – to the city to film a scene. That scene was set inside and outside the Macau Palace floating casino, which was popular in those days but closed in 2007.
SHANGHAI SURPRISE (1986)
Director: Jim Goddard
Starring: Sean Penn, Madonna, Paul Freeman
The film: A romantic comedy starring the then husband-and-wife team of Madonna and Sean Penn. Set in Shanghai in 1938, the film follows Madonna’s chaste missionary who hires Penn’s sleazy fortune hunter to help her track down opium for wounded Chinese soldiers under her care who need morphine. Cue campy action and other sleazy characters also hunting for opium.
Macao locations: Surprise indeed: not all of this movie’s scenes were shot in Shanghai. Several were filmed in Macao, including at the Penang Hotel, where Penn’s character stays. This was actually an old dilapidated hotel called Hotel Cantao at 286 Rua do Guimaraes, which is now a Mocha Club gaming and coffee establishment.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu
Language: Cantonese and Shanghainese
The film: ‘In the Mood for Love’ was the second in Wong Kar-wai’s award-winning series of movies that was preceded by his 1990 film ‘Days of Being Wild’ and followed by 2004’s ‘2046’. Tony Leung is Chow Mo-wan and Maggie Cheung is Su Li-zhen – neighbours in the same apartment building whose spouses cheat on them with the other’s partner, forcing them to find solace in each other’s company, however they agree to keep their relationship platonic.
Macao locations: Parts of the film were shot in Macao. In fact, locations were shifted from Beijing to the city at the last minute. Parts of ‘2046’, which also starred Faye Wong and Gong Li, were also shot in Macao. Both movies featured the Sanva Hotel, which is still there in Rua da Felicidade, as it had a poorly lit stairwell that was reminiscent of the 1950s.
DOUBLE DHAMAAL (2011)
Director: Indra Kumar
Starring: Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, Riteish Deshmukh
The film: The second film in the ‘Dhamaal’ series, this Indian comedy flick continues from the previous film with the same four friends back for some more comedic conning mishaps. They end up in Macao in pursuit of an old enemy whose life they plan on ruining.
Macao locations: A fair amount of the film was shot in Macao, including a shot that shows three of the cast arriving at Cotai’s Galaxy Macau.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (2016)
Director: Jon M Chu
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Daniel Radcliffe, Jay Chou
The film: ‘Now You See Me’ was a fairly magical Hollywood hit when it came out in 2013 but this sequel takes the ‘Four Horsemen’ – a quartet of outstanding magicians – from American shores to the glamour of Macao. This time round, they meet a shady master criminal played by Daniel Radcliffe and seek help in a magic shop in the heart of the SAR.
Macao locations: Chu’s team shot scenes all over Macao, including Rua da Felicidade, Iong’s Magic Shop, Macao Science Centre and Sands Macao Hotel.