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‘Hunger Games’ ride anchors edgy new adult theme park in China

Lionsgate Entertainment World
An artist’s rendering shows the atrium of Lionsgate Entertainment World, a virtual reality-heavy theme park set to open this month on Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, China.
(Lionsgate)

“The Hunger Games” has sold over 100 million books and nearly $3 billion in movie tickets, but the tale of children fighting to the death in a dystopian world doesn’t immediately lend itself to kid-friendly theme-park attractions.

That’s why the developer of Lionsgate Entertainment World, Hong Kong real estate giant Lai Sun Group, is targeting a different audience. The project, opening July 31 on Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, China, may be the world’s first PG-13 theme park. It’s aimed at 16- to 30-year-old Chinese consumers, who often go out in groups, even when courting.

“They came to us and said, ‘We want to create this pocket park, this indoor park, specifically for the date crowd of China,’” said Dave Cobb, a creative director at Los Angeles-based Thinkwell Group who helped design the project. “We really are leaning into stories that are a little bit darker, a little bit more thrilling.”

The central premise of “The Hunger Games” is violent. Kids are plucked from their homes by the government to battle in a bloody arena with axes, swords and, of course, the bow wielded so skillfully by heroine Katniss Everdeen. But the park designers wanted thrills without the gore and focused on other parts of the saga that play out in the books and films.

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“It’s really unique — people use words like ‘sleek’ and ‘architecturally amazing’ — and I think I’ve heard the word ‘sexy’ used,” said Jenefer Brown, who heads live entertainment projects for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., a film and TV studio that’s licensing its movie properties to the park. “It’s unique to hear a theme park described in that way.”

The signature ride, Mockingjay Flight: Rebel Escape, loads 30 guests in a sort of all-terrain vehicle and uses the magic of 3-D projections to let them flee the city and stay one step ahead of the evil “peacekeepers.” Along the way, they face gushers of black tar, electrified nets, fire and “tracker jackers,” genetically modified wasps that zoom into the cabin.

The park is Phase 1 of an $806-million project called Novotown. Managed by Australia’s Village Roadshow Ltd., the park is opening on Hengqin Island, an area next to the gambling mecca of Macau that Chinese officials have targeted as a theme-park destination.

“I kind of think of it as, we’re in Orlando and you’ve got Vegas across the way,” Brown said.

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Theme-park construction in China has slowed over the last two years as the government stopped encouraging developers to build parks to win approval for residential projects, according to the consulting firm Aecom.

Lions Gate, based in Santa Monica, suffered a setback globally when its Spanish partner, Parques Reunidos Servicios Centrales, canceled plans for two indoor attractions tied to the company’s movies and TV shows, including one in New York’s Times Square. The studio is also involved in a park that opened in Dubai and has another planned with developers in South Korea.

Dennis Speigel, a consultant with International Theme Park Services Inc. in Cincinnati, said one of his colleagues toured the Chinese project recently and came away impressed.

“It’s not a huge park, but it looks to be done very well,” he said.

The property also features attractions tied to other Lions Gate movies. In a “Twilight” ride, guests steer fake motorcycles alongside a wolf pack as they battle bloodthirsty, newborn vampires. Another replicates the fear simulator from the “Divergent” sci-fi series, including a walk on a virtual gangplank 100 stories high.

A whole floor, however, is devoted to “The Hunger Games.” It includes a gold and marble streetscape designed to replicate the wealthy Capitol City. There’s a high-end restaurant, a bakery and a salon at which guests can get their hair and makeup done in the over-the-top style of the films. So if swarms of killer insects aren’t your thing, there are other options.

“There’s such a bigger story about that brand,” Cobb said.


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