DAYING COUNTY, China (Reuters) - You too may soon be able to feel what it was like to hit an iceberg on the Titanic.

Construction of a life-size replica of the doomed passenger ship began in China's southwestern Sichuan province on Wednesday with a keel-laying ceremony and fireworks to mark the occasion.

It is part of Star Energy Investment Group's plans for a tourist resort along the Qijiang River in Sichuan's Daying County.

And it will eventually come with a simulation of the iceberg collision that sank the original ship in the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912.

Backers say the project will also play on the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic" movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Steven Star Chief Executive Su Shaojun said it should not be strange that it is in China.

"It's not like a certain country owns this thing. Just like the U.S. can make (animation film) 'Kung Fu Panda' and that's very common. Same with 'Mulan'. For China, the Titanic represents something of universal value."

Su said the project, which is above its original slated cost of 1 billion yuan ($145.31 million), would probably be finished by end-2017.

Hollywood production designer and producer Curtis Schnell, who is working on the project as its Titanic design expert, said despite criticism online that a tragedy in which some 1,500 people died was being resurrected for tourism purposes, Seven Star has recognized the venture in a "very respectful way".

"We're trying to get as close as we can," he said. "We are not building every room in the ship, by any means, but the shell of the ship and the exteriors will be quite accurate, there will be interior rooms to be able to tour and see from the standpoint of historical accuracy."

The new resort will also feature a man-made beach, a "6D" movie theater and replicas of a Venetian church and European castles.

(Reporting by Joseph Campbell)