Empire Caribe Hotel Residence in Playa del Carmen Inspired by Orson Welles Film “The Lady from Shanghai”

Welles’ film noir crime drama, filmed on location in Acapulco aboard actor Errol Flynn’s yacht, makes a strong visual presence inside the walls of Mexican architect Alejandro Alarcón newest project.


By Ian MacKenzie


Architect Alejandro Alarcón’s newest building project in Playa del Carmen takes its inspiration from the world of cinema, a 1948 film noir directed by Orson Welles entitled The Lady from Shanghai, which also co-starred his then-wife Rita Hayworth. Shot on location in New York, San Francisco and Acapulco, the film tells the story of an Irish adventurer and would-be novelist, who finds himself snared into taking a bizarre sea journey on his shady employer's yacht, much against his better judgment. The yacht that was used was owned at the time by Hollywood actor Errol Flynn and it becomes one of the main sets of the film where much of the drama unfolds onscreen.


ALEJANDRO ALARCÓN: “A large part of film takes place on the waters off the coast of Acapulco, in the Pacific. So taking that as a reference, I remade it as a point of view, where the Pacific becomes the Caribbean sea, and the yacht becomes the hotel itself. Inside the building we have rooms made to look like the cabins of the ship, with a lot of wood used for construction.”


Columbia Pictures sent 40 technicians with more than six tons of equipment – a massive amount by that time’s standards- to accompany Welles and his crew through the Mexican jungle to Acapulco. The studio chief and others executives were mystified by Welles’’ groundbreaking choice to shoot on location for an action movie. Adapted from the Sherwood King novel If I Die Before I Wake, by Welles served as director, writer, and star. The film is famous for its confounding plot, clever and imaginative visuals, and the studio interference which ultimately marred Welles’s vision for the project, cutting out 1 hour of screen time. 


ALARCÓN: The idea is that you as a guest will become a character in the film, like those played by Hayworth or Welles. You are living as them, and also living their adventure as portrayed in the film. It’s an instantaneous leap from 1948 to 2018, along with the jungle and the foliage. All of those elements which reference the original film and are part of the local landscape.”


What about the choice of location for Empire Caribe?


ALARCÓN“5th Avenue and 38th street is a zone that has a lot of character and yet is not too commercial. It’s a very central location in Playa with the largest concentration of natural vegetation present in the street design. There are a lot of good restaurants nearby, and the beach on 38th attracts many who are looking to get away from a beach club atmosphere with loud music.”


The film was released in the US without fanfare, one year after Welles delivered his cut. Despite the lack of support at the time, the years since it’s making have elevated to a high status among film aficionados, who regard it as one of the film noir genre’s highest achievements, as well as an example of the potential that Orson Welles had as a filmmaker when given the freedom to create. One critic wrote that “it feels as if he’s completely intoxicated by his passion for cinema and its enormous expressive potential.”


ALARCÓN“There will be a strong presence of contemporary art in Empire Caribe. There are various emerging artists in Mexico who are being recognized and we can acquire their work for good prices, resulting in good quality art, installation, whether it is painting or sculpture. It provides an atmosphere, when you pay for a room you have something distinct in your room.”