Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Siang Savan Theater - Luang Prabang, Laos

In terms of quaintness and subtle charms, you'd be hard pressed to find a theater better suited to those terms than Luang Prabang's Siang Savan Theater. Built in the late 1950's, presumably by somebody of Sino-Lao origins, judging by the Chinese characters molded onto the cornice, the Siang Savan was the first brick and mortar theater in the former capital of northern Laos. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to speak to anybody with any strong ties to the theater, outside of a few locals who recalled seeing movies there when it was functioning.

Full frontal

Like all Laotian movie theaters, the Siang Savan was partially nationalized after 1975, coming under the direction of the Ministry of Culture. While the cinema of Thailand, France and America was banned from Lao silver screens, replacements were brought in from Communist ally countries like Vietnam, Russia and non-aligned India. Films from communist China were surprisingly absent from the film fare due to stunted relations between the two countries. The Laotian communists had been under the tutelage of the Vietnamese, who had shifted political allegiances from China to the Soviet Union - hence the lack of Chinese movies, among other things Chinese, in Laos. To be sure, Lao and Chinese relations are quite warm these days, thanks to expanded trade and often environmentally unsound infrastructure projects.

Ornate plaster moldings adorn the front entrance.






Ticket window in the vestibule. Notice the design on the bars.


I wasn't able to get any precise details, though rumor has it that the Siang Savan has been closed since the early 1990's. For a brief period it was rehabbed and turned into a restaurant, trying to capitalize on the influx of tourists that Luang Prabang has received since it gained UNESCO World Heritage City status. Luang Prabang is a pretty and well-preserved town, but there is little to do once all the tourist sites have been seen. Everybody likes the movies. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a cinematic future in store for this old gem?

Siang Savan translates to heavenly sounds. Sounds heavenly to me!

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