Reflections of China

Reflections of China

This week we are in Epcot, and exploring the China pavilion in the World Showcase.  This is a beautiful pavilion, rich in color, detail, and architecture.  Inside is a 360 Circlevision film that is equally rich in Chinese history and story.  Let’s take a trip to the far east and get started with our…

Know Before You Go Essential Facts

  • The film is located in the China Pavilion at Epcot
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass + is not available
  • The fright factor is 0 out of 5
  • Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
  • Audio Description, Reflective Captioning, Assistive Listening, and Language Translation Devices are available
  • The show is 13 minutes long
  • The film opened October 2, 1982 as Wonders of China.  It was updated and reopened on May 22, 2003 as Reflections of China.

I wake, and moonbeams play around my bed,

Glittering like hoar-frost to my wandering eyes;

Up towards the glorious moon I raised my head,

Then lay me down – and thoughts of home arise.

This is one of the most well known poems in all of Chinese literature.  So famous, it is often one of the first poems learned by children in China.  The author was Li Bai, who lived from 701 – 762 AD.  Today, he is still considered one of China’s greatest poets.  So, when the Disney Imagineers were looking for the perfect narrator for the film in their new Epcot pavilion, they didn’t have to look far.  Li Bai was brought back to life as the narrator in the original version of this show, Wonders of China.  His voice would serve as the reflective guide in a film unlike any shown before in the Western World.

Wonders of China was a project that introduced western audiences to sights never before seen.  In fact, it was only after great effort and persistence that the government of China granted Disney and their film crew access to their country.  In a strange bit of history, it was after watching Fantasia that the Chinese government changed their tune and agreed to work with Disney.  I’m not exactly sure why that film unlocked the door to a travelogue about China, but it worked.  According to the film’s director, Jeff Blyth, the Chinese government came to understand Disney wanted to portray a fair and realistic portrait of China.  After this, they were just as enthusiastic about the project as Disney.

Still, there were guidelines put in place for the film crew, which consisted of both American and Chinese workers.  The crew was granted access to exclusive areas like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, and the square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  However, when it came to arial shots the American crew was grounded.  Only the Chinese crew members were allowed to ascend in certain areas to capture the wanted footage.  After recording test film they would come back down and show the shots to the director Blyth.  If all looked good he would send them back up with the 9-camera Circlevision mount and have them capture the final footage.

This collaboration worked well, and over the course of 8 months the team filmed the country from one end of the Great Wall to the other.  One of their challenges along the way was crowd control.  There were so many people in each location, curious to see the film, that the crew had to use picket lines and spotters to get the shot without someone wandering through the scene.  This was even true when filming the grasslands of Inner Mongolia!  For the scenes with the Great Wall, the crew cleared of a section of the wall and hired actors to portray tourists.  That may seem a little strange, but it was the only way they could guarantee the people on film wouldn’t be staring up and pointing at the Circlevision cameras.  The end result was stunning though, and well it should have been.

The final cost of Wonders of China was estimated to be 1 million dollars!  That’s a pretty penny by 1982 standards, especially for a film that was included in the price of admission to Epcot.

The 19 minute finished product opened with Epcot on October 1, 1982.  The subtitle of the film was “Land of Beauty, Land of Time.”  For millions, this film was their first look into the land, culture, and history of China.  As such, Wonders of China did not focus on the modern cities of the land, but its natural beauty and ancient history.  For nearly 21 years the original version of the show played at Epcot.

China changed a lot during the course of that 21 year run, and by 2003 Disney knew the film was overdue for an update.  On March 25, 2003 Wonders of China was shown for the final time.  Meanwhile, an updated version of the film was in the works.  New scenes of Hong Kong and Macau were added, and all of the footage from Shanghai was replaced with new film.  Updated shots of many of the locations also replaced their 20 year old counterparts.  Li Bai remained the narrator for the film, but new dialogue was recorded by a new actor.  The film was cut down to 13 minutes, and the show reopened as Reflections of China on May 22, 2003.

That is the version we have available to enjoy today, so I want to spend a few minutes discussing what you can expect from this film.  As I said already, this is another 360 Circlevision film, shot in the same manner as its Canadian counterpart O Canada!  We spent a few minutes discussing the theater setup in last week’s podcast, so I won’t rehash that again here.  If you missed that episode go back and check it out for tips on how to best view this type of film. Just know this theater is almost identical to that of O Canada! and you will be standing for the entirety of the 13 minute film.

The tone for this film is very different from O Canada!  That film is narrated by a modern day comedian in Martin Short, while Reflections of China is narrated by a poet from the Tang Dynasty.  Each sets the mood for their respective show, but as you can imagine, the mood is much more respectful in Reflections of China.  Still, the new version of the film does not live solely in the country’s past.  The 9 screens surrounding the audience first fill the room with a jaw dropping look at the Great Wall of China.  This wonder of the ancient world, once spanning 4,000 miles, is a truly impressive starting point.  The next scene though is what separates this film from its predecessor, Wonders of China.  Li Bai introduces a different type of landscape by taking the audience to modern day Shanghai.  Well, it was modern back in 2003.  As the film points out this city is ever reinventing itself, and it definitely looks different today than it did back in the early 2000’s.  Still, the skyscrapers pushing to the sky are new to Reflections of China, and a good representation of how rapidly this grand country is growing.

That growth does not come at the cost of long held traditions, and the next scene in the film shows a large number of people practicing Tai Chi along the riverbanks in Huangpu.  The peaceful and serene scene blends in beautifully with the next as viewers are taken to the sea of clouds up on the Huangshun Mountain.  For centuries this breathtaking view has been the inspiration of both artists and poets like Li Bai.  This is great moment in the film to slowly turn and take in the 360 view of the mountains.

From here, Li Bai explains the importance of water in Chinese culture.  The film takes you down the Yangtze River and then the Suzhou Canal, the longest manmade river in the world.  It quickly becomes clear that Reflections of China is a balance of the ancient and the modern.  We won’t go through the list of every location found in the film, I want to save some surprises for when you visit!  Let me say that the newer film lives up to its subtitle, “Explore Modern Worlds, Discover Ageless Beauty.”  From Hong Kong, to Tien An Men Square, the rest of the film gives you a full picture of this unique land.  As the film concludes, the people of China are featured before you return to the Great Wall to find Li Bai one last time.

A wave of the hand and I am gone.  

Lowering my head, I dream I am home.

Until we meet again.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful film.  It paints a rich picture of China with each scene building on the previous one.  The reflective style of narration gives the film a sense of weight and importance.  When I leave this theater I do so with a sense of awe.  I think this is a great film for teens, adults, and seniors.  As with O Canada!, the 13 minutes of standing time make it a tough sell for young children.

Now that we have covered all 3 films in the World Showcase, Impressions de France, O Canada!, and Reflections of China, you may be wondering how I would rate the three.  It can be difficult to work all 3 into a single day of touring Epcot, so let me give you my order.  If you have time to see only one, I recommend Impressions de France.  This is the only one of the three that is not Circlevision, but it makes up for that with comfy chairs!  The film is beautiful, fun, and relaxing.  It gets my vote for #1.  Next on my list is Reflections of China.  When I step into the China pavilion I really feel like I am visiting another part of the world.  The pavilion is detailed, and there is so much to see.  The film sits at the heart of the pavilion and as discussed today, does a wonderful job of introducing a world very different from that known by most westerners.  That leaves O Canada! in the third spot.  Of course, I still like O Canada! and recommend you make time to see it when possible.  If you have to save one for your next trip though, this would by my pick.

Before we go today, I do want to highlight a couple of things in the China pavilion that you will want to check out when you go to see Reflections of China.  As I said, this is one of the most intricate and colorful pavilions.  While there is a great deal to take in on the outside, one of my favorite treasures is a small gallery found inside the pavilion.  In the film there is a scene showing the army of terra cotta soldiers guarding the tomb of  the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty.  In 1974 farmers uncovered this 2,000 year old tomb.  Once excavated, archaeologists discovered a massive complex spanning 22 square miles!  The central mausoleum alone is 526 acres, which is twice the size of Epcot. What is really neat, is the model of this amazing discovery found in the gallery outside of Reflections of China.  You can see a scaled down version of the tomb army, intended to provide protection even beyond the grave.  Pay close attention to each figure and you will notice the face of each soldier is unique.  The tomb originally held more than 8,000 soldiers, and some believe each statue was modeled after a different soldier in real life.  The sheer volume of craftsmanship is astounding to me, and I could spend a good amount of time in the gallery admiring this tiny reproduction.

Photo – Disney

Eventually, you will need to head back out into the World Showcase, but before you do there is one more performance worth stopping for.  The China pavilion has a good history of performing acrobats, and the current show is no exception.  The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats can be found near the entrance to the pavilion five days a week.  Their performances normally start 10 minutes after the hour, and run from 4:10 pm – 8:10 pm.  Be sure to check your times guide on the My Disney Experience App for that day’s showtimes.  If you have ever been witness to a Chinese acrobatic show, you know what a treat this is.  The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats perform feats of balance, flexibility, and agility that defy explanation.  If you weren’t but a few feet away watching it unfold right before your eyes, you might not believe what you were seeing.  The show is arguably the best of all the street performances in the World Showcase.  I highly recommend you plan to watch this show either before or after you see Reflections of China.

Well, I know there are many more details about this vibrant pavilion we could cover, but that is all the time we have for today.  If you plan to be in Epcot anytime soon, don’t forget about the wonderful Circlevision film Reflections of China, the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats, or the Tomb Warriors exhibit inside the House of the Whispering Willows gallery.

Thank you so much for joining me again today.  We are working hard to build our library of Disney rides, shows, and experiences so you can plan a more magical vacation.  The variety is never ending in this magical place and that is why we keep bringing you new episodes week after week.  I really do want to thank you for tuning in and I hope you will come back to join us again!


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