Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Chalerm Kiad - Bangkok, Thailand

The Chalerm Kiad is another product of the Banpreecha family. It was the second of their 4 movie theater empire, which began back in 1953. This second cinematic initiative has been standing on the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle since 1955, a neighborhood landmark for over 50 years.

The architectural details of this theater are quite attractive when you get up close. With that in mind, I asked the guy at the ticket booth if I could take some photos of the lobby area, but he denied me. "That wouldn't be a good idea," he said. "We show a special kind of movie here and the customers wouldn't appreciate you snooping around with a camera in your hand. It's bad for business, you know?"

An understandable position given the circumstances. Officially, pornography is illegal in Thailand, as is prostitution for that matter. But as with many prohibited goods and services, there are ways of getting around the law.

A surviving relic of Bangkok's days as a Mecca for movies.

The Chalerm Kiad Theater is no longer a Banpreecha family enterprise. Fred Banpreecha sold it off some time in last 10 years. Given its prime location on the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle and the fact that the Sky Train just extended services to this section of the city, I imagine the Chalerm Kiad will wind up a victim of urban renewal in the near future.

This marquee sits atop the Chalerm Kiad and is pivoted to face the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle. Below the sign, Chinese characters are moulded onto the wall, presumably the original Chinese version of the Banpreecha surname. The lettering on the sign reads "Showing 5 films in a row."

(Chalerm Kiad loosely translates to "Prestigious")
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During this latest trip to Bangkok I encountered many older movie theaters that are now showing adult films, or used for other alternative purposes. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, mostly having to do with the economic viability of the medium. Owners of these theaters are in a precarious position. Usually the theaters are older and not desirable places for most casual movie-goers to see a movie. The hi-tech, ultra-modern multiplexes have that market. Theaters like this also tend to be in slightly poorer areas of town, where there is less of a viable market to begin with. Renovation costs are prohibitive and demolition costs are also quite steep, leaving the theater owner with few options besides catering to this underground corner of the sex industry, a reliable source of revenue, considering the elastic nature of that market.

This poses a moral question: do I publicize the prohibited, bringing attention to this lesser known movie theater sub-culture, or do I leave the subject alone and just stick to history and the like? Are there any journalism professors out there who can help me answer this?

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