Zhang Yimou's 'Impression Melaka' to premiere
Boo Kuang Loon, a Malacca-born businessman, had always wanted to contribute to the Malaysian city's cultural richness. He never thought that a letter to Zhang Yimou, the renowned Chinese director, would make his dream come true.
In early 2013, when traveling in China, Boo was stunned by "Impression Liu Sanjie," an outdoor theme production directed by Zhang.
He then wrote an email to the director, who is well known for a series of works including "Hero" and "The Great Wall," expressing his hope that Malacca, a historical state in southern Malaysia, could have the first impression series outside China to tell its local story to the world.
Two months later, Boo got a reply from Zhang. The director visited Malacca and told Boo he also loved the historical state. They decided to replicate the successful cultural show in Malacca.
After more than four years of efforts, "Impression Melaka," with a total cost of 300 million ringgit (72 million U.S. dollars), is finally on track to have its premiere in the first quarter of 2018.
"It all started with just a letter. I remembered I saw the impression series in Guilin before and I was impressed with how they cast the show, and its effect on the audiences," Boo, chief executive officer of cultural and tourism firm Yong Tai told Xinhua in a recent interview. The group owns the Impression Melaka.
Boo is confident that the impression series will receive an overwhelming response as the show is in line with international cultural standards.
"(It's true) that there are a lot of cultural performances in Malaysia that have not done well. But if we do it according to international standards, I don't think we will fail. That's why we bring in Zhang who is an international director and had conducted the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies," Boo said.
He also sees the impression series as an Asian way to show Malacca's culture and story, which will make it outstanding.
"We strongly believe the impression performance will be another new icon of Malacca, becoming a must-visit place for tourists," he said.
"Indeed, the people of Malacca are looking forward for it to be ready," Boo said, adding the show is able to fill the cultural gap as not many night cultural activities are available in the state.
According to Boo, the developer is topping off the theater now, and has started the admission procedures, as well as recruiting performers.
"The directors and technicians from China will come next month to begin training and trial performances," Boo said. The first show is expected to kick off in March next year.
Yong Tai is also in negotiation with several travel agencies including those in China to promote ticket sales. Some deals are expected to be realized next month.
"The feedback has been positive so far. We are close to meeting our target," Boo said.
The group forecast the outdoor theme production in Malacca could attract as many as 1.4 million visitors per year.
He estimates that 40 percent of the tourists will be from China, while those from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries and Malaysia will account for 20 and 30 percent respectively. The rest will come from other countries and regions such as the United States and Europe.
"This is a conservative forecast. If you look at tourist arrivals in Malacca, which totaled 16 million last year, we just need to capture an audience of 1 million," Boo said, noting that there would be at least two shows per day with a duration of 70 to 90 minutes, with an average ticket price of 120 ringgit (28.75 U.S. dollars).
Meanwhile, the positive relationship between Malaysia and China has put Malacca in a better position to compete with other regions in tourism.
This is especially evident as the state has been recognized as a key development state under the Belt and Road Initiative, with more Chinese investments coming in, said Boo.
Should the impression series be a success in Malacca, Boo and director Zhang may replicate it in other southeast Asian countries.
"We are looking at Indonesia and Thailand, which have great potential in their tourism industries," Boo said.