BANGKOK, THAILAND - A large neon red sign in cursive script and a painting of a buxom woman wearing a blue bra advertise The Great World Casino. Nearby, a rice shop displays wooden buckets of grain under a canvas awning.
Chow Yun Fat strolls through wearing a white dress shirt, red tie and suspenders attached to his pin-striped grey trousers while extras walk around in traditional Chinese robes.
The streets are lined with cars and rickshaws.
After failing to get approval to shoot in China, The Weinstein Co has recreated the East-meets-West world of 1940s Shanghai on a movie set in the northern outskirts of Bangkok.
A Chinese official said earlier this year the government blocked Shanghai, the more than US$10-million (S$13.7-million) World War II-era thriller starring John Cusack, because of concerns about its script.
Film officials did not spell out their reasons, but they were likely worried about the setting of Japanese-occupied Shanghai.
Also featuring Hong Kong's Chow, China's Gong Li and Japan's Ken Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi, the movie is about an American intelligence official who investigates his friend's death in Shanghai in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack.
So The Weinstein Co relocated the project to London, where they shot interior scenes, and Bangkok, where 300 construction workers recreated old Shanghai.
On a set visit last Saturday, producers showed off their elaborate two-block set, heaped praise on the local film industry and said China's decision to reject the production was a blessing in disguise.
'Thailand invited us in a great way. We got the possibility to do this fantastic backdrop I couldn't dream of,' director Mikael Hafstrom said.
The movie's Chinese female star, Gong, said it was 'bigger and more beautiful' than the sets in China.
'Everything exceeded our imagination... all the movies set in Shanghai in the future can shoot here,' she said.
Production designer Jim Clay said the film-makers were supposed to shoot on an existing Chinese set of old Shanghai already used for movies such as Lee Ang's Lust, Caution and James Ivory's The White Countess. No longer confined to that set, they could tap their imagination fully, he said.
'We were going to follow in a lot of people's footsteps. So when we couldn't work there, in a way we suddenly had a breath of fresh air. We thought, 'Well, we can build our own world', and that's what we did,' he said, standing on a re-creation of Shanghai's famed Nanjing Road.
Despite the change in location, producer Steve Squillante said the budget did not go up because of competitive costs in Thailand.
Another producer, Jake Myers, said the film-makers have since resolved their differences with the Chinese officials and received belated permission to shoot there, but by that time, the production had moved on.
He added that they still want the movie to be released there.
Principal shooting on the movie is scheduled to end next week and The Weinstein Co is aiming for a Christmas release in the United States.
Myers said: 'A film with Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat? We really have to release it in China.'