Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Khemsawat Cinema - Fang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn't so long ago that the Fang district of Chiang Mai province was one of Thailand's key centers for the cultivation of Paperver Somniferum - the poppy flower; source of such habit forming drugs as opium and heroin. Pressure from the international community, however, has led the Thai state on a crop-substitution and poppy-eradication crusade, resulting in wide-spread suppression of the practice, which used to comprise a massive portion of northern Thailand's economy. Nonetheless, rumors abound that the dope trade lives on in Fang, a fact which sadly cannot be applied to the town's movie theater industry.

Street perspective of the Khemsawat Cinema, that last of Fang's movie theaters

Once upon a time, however, starting back in 1973, Fang was blessed with the Khemsawat Cinema, the first solid brick and mortar theater of its kind in the little drug depot. Right, smack in the center of town, it was a handsome theater, stoically providing the Fang townsfolk with their regular fix of film. Whether high-grade entertainment or just plain junk, the Khemsawat Cinema served its customers faithfully 7 days a week, until it was pushed out of business by a dwindling population and an overdose of home theaters in the early 2000's. It's been dormant ever since.

A man saunters past the dormat Khemsawat Cinema, in a scene that looks as if it could be from 1986.

Incidentally, while roaming the town in search of this lusterless jewel, I met the brother-in-law of the owner of Fang's original wooden movie theater. Despite the fact that it's been demolished for over 40 years, this man was able to recount a number of valuable details about the old theater and how it operated. For instance, the old theater in Fang shared film reels with the theaters in Chiang Dao, Mae Rim and other districts in Chiang Mai province. After the film had been screened at one theater, the distributor would strap it to a motorcycle and have it sent to another. Sometimes, he remembered, the patrons at the Fang theater would have to wait until after the scheduled show-time because delivery of the reel from Chiang Dao was delayed. When at last the coveted reel arrived, the audience would erupt in cheer.

Through the shuttered gates.

At some point the name was changed to Suksawat Cineplex

Even abandoned, the Khemsawat Cinema is an unusually attractive movie theater for such a small town. Without casting any stones, it would not surprise me if its beauty reflects Fang's integral role in the heroin trade of years passed. After all, drug money has to be laundered somehow. What better way than investing in a movie theater?

1 comment:

  1. You wrote "Right smack in the center of town." But perhaps you really meant "Right in the center of smack town."