A pop culture icon since his first cinematic appearance in 1933, King Kong remains a box office favorite.
The new 2017 film, Kong: Skull Island tells the story and origin of the mysterious King Kong, and is the largest budget movie ever filmed in Vietnam. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his crew traveled for months “scouring the world” to find just the right place to film, and fell in love with Vietnam.
“When we got out of the car, we immediately saw a stunningly beautiful sight that we thought was not real. It was magical. We fell in love with this place.”
“The look of Vietnam is gorgeous and otherworldly at the same time,” Vogt-Roberts said. “There’s such a raw, powerful and unspoiled beauty that audiences hadn’t experienced on screen before. There’s a ruggedness and a beauty to Vietnam.”
Magnificent mountain ranges in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh, Quang Binh and Ninh Binh provinces provide the backdrop for Kong’s mythical island home. “Visually, it has paid off, setting Kong: Skull Island apart from its predecessors and the rest of the Kong films,” says Vogt-Roberts.
“I think audiences go to cinemas to see new things. I very specifically didn’t want it to look like Jurassic Park – I wanted it to look fresh,” he said. Wanting to shoot as much of the movie in real locations as possible, Vogt-Roberts also filmed sequences for the movie in Hawaii and Australia.
Kong: Skull Island stars Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell. The film begins in the post-Vietnam war timeframe, when a discovery expedition team is sent to a remote island inhabited by Kong and other strange creatures.
Vietnam had never hosted a Hollywood film on this scale or budget until this production. The full cast and 120 crew members were on site last year shooting at Quang Binh’s massive, mysterious caves, in the quiet towns of Ninh Binh, Phong Nha and at the pristine world heritage site of Ha Long Bay. Known for their untouched beauty and natural formations, these are some of the most remote and unknown parts of Vietnam that have not been seen before on film.
Veteran actor John Goodman said it was a “pleasure” to run around the streets of Hanoi trying to get lost and finding his way back. “They said we were the first western picture to film there, and they were very accommodating to us, and they wanted us to feel welcomed and they most certainly did that. In and out of the countryside, you see some rice farmers, some buffalos, things that I never thought I’d see. Water, caves, it was just beautiful.”
Brie Larson said her experience was all about “the little things” the Vietnamese hosts did for the cast and crew. “They built our trailers from the ground up, taking old school buses, gutting them completely and put in plumbing and couches, she recalled. “The craftsmanship was amazing. It was just little things. They even built roads for our trucks to get to the locations because we were so remote.”
“That’s the reason why we shot there, because you’re trying to find something that is completely untouched and looks unlike anything you’ve seen before. And Vietnam is the answer to that,” said Larson. “You can see it in the film. People will have to go visit it. I cannot say enough nice things about Vietnam. It was my first trip there and it will certainly not be my last. Hanoi was absolutely incredible and Ninh Binh was also beautiful. I tell everyone who wants to go that Hanoi is such a great place to start because there’s so much to do and so much to see.”
Despite the beautiful landscape and hospitable people, filming in remote areas of Vietnam brought many challenges. Samuel L. Jackson said that traveling from where they were living to the actual location took up to two hours many days. “Some days, we had to get in canoes with little ladies who rode us through mountains and caves,” he said with a smile. “But that was kind of fun.”
For Tom Hiddleston, filming one particularly tough swamp sequence was memorable. “There’s a swamp that we ran through every day for ten days which was incredibly cold. And for continuity, we had to get the same amount of ‘wet’ for every one of the ten days.” But overall, the British actor said working in Vietnam was amazing and a privilege. “And that is because the people were so welcoming and warm. The topography of where we were – I’ve never seen landscapes like that before,” he continued. “It’s our job as actors to imagine we’re living in this desert island and undiscovered wilderness untouched by man. And the fact that we’re in these swamps, out of which arises these towers of rock, makes at least that part of the imagination easier. Now all you have to do is put the 100-foot gorilla in there,” he continued with a laugh.
Vogt-Roberts said he hopes the film inspires people to visit Vietnam as it continues to grow as a tourist destination. “I sincerely believe that our film will have a positive impact on tourism, filming, and a general understanding of how stunning and beautiful the country is. For all the challenges filming in Vietnam presented, Vogt-Roberts wanted both his actors and the audience to “feel the tactile nature of the environment”.
He hopes people will walk out of Kong: Skull Island wanting to discover Vietnam for themselves. “I hope that people will look at this movie the same way they looked at Lord of The Rings, Middle Earth and New Zealand and ask ‘Where did they shoot that?’” he said.
“I hope they go and explore Vietnam, fall in love with the landscapes, the people, the culture and the food. I hope they explore the rest of Asia as well, because I don’t think a lot of people think to go to these places as much. I want them to fall in love the way that I did.”
U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius said the film will highlight Vietnam as a superb tourism destination and deepen ties between the two countries’ entertainment industries.
The production crew made a commitment to be respectful of the land, and to protect the local environment and nature when they sought permission to shoot the film. Director Vogt-Roberts agreed, “We will try not to harm the environment and cause the least negative impact, as we expect that when audiences come to Vietnam, they can see such spectacular sights as they see in the film.”
“When audiences watch Lord of the Rings and feel stunned by the beauty of the nature in sequences taken in New Zealand, they all want to visit the place. I think they will feel the same for Vietnam when they see Kong: Skull Island.
Disclaimer/Spoiler Alert: If you have a fear of spiders, be prepared for what this film brings.