Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Shwe Mann Cinema - Yangon, Myanmar

When I photographed the Shwe Mann Cinema back in June, I remember thinking it was of a less stimulating variety than the other theaters I'd come across in Yangon. Aside from a courteous and curious staff, ever accommodating to my photographic requests, the physicality of the place left me unimpressed. Many prior hours spent milling about the muck-studded allure of Cinema Row, with its sextet of time-worm movie houses in the city center had me spoiled. In comparison, the Shwe Mann's more homely, less regal design left something to be desired. But looking back over this set of photos I am finding myself reassessing that narrow view.

The Shwe Mann Cinema serves its faithful on the outskirts of downtown Yangon; an unassuming neighborhood escape den just off the Dagon intersection.

Shwe Mann facade and vending action

Ticket window flanked by posters for the latest domestic thriller, "The Three Brides."

A ticket taker waits for patrons, while the assistant manager looks on with his young son in arms.

Three young guards, hired to search the bags of incoming movie goers for recording devices, wait for patrons to search. Many Myanmar cinema halls employ such staff.


It was just shy of a packed house on the Saturday afternoon of my visit. A stream of last minute movie-goers poured through the front door en route to their assigned seats and air-conditioned relief from rainy season languor. My arrival caused quite a stir among the Shwe Mann's young staff, a half-dozen of whom thronged the entrance way. Most of them were security guards, charged with searching the baggage of incoming cinephiles for camcorders and other devices of the bootlegging business.

A man with an authoritative demeanor approached me as I made my case to the guards. The manager, I assumed. So it was. I had obviously come to the wrong place, he expressed, while attempting to convey that this was a movie theater playing Burmese language films. As an act of good will and segue to consent, I purchased a ticket, then pulled out the camera to show off photos of other theaters I'd taken around town.

The Burmese word for movie theater is roughly pronounced yo' shin-yon; it's one of the few Burmese words I have etched in the brain. Combining the English "I love" and the Burmese "yo' shin-yon" immediately registered with the theater staff and the red carpet treatment was enacted in haste. An entourage of perplexed employees trailed me as I explored the inner depths of their work place.

Landing of the staircase, leading up to the auditorium. The Shwe Mann Temple, of which the theater is named for, is etched into the mirror.

Shwe Mann graffiti

The assistant manager posing for a photo in an little cranny of the Shwe Mann.
Door girl flips through a magazine

Door girl doing her duty

Door girl shyly smiling with Walt Disney wall-paper behind her.

Historical data for the Shwe Mann Cinema was hard to collect given the thick language barrier. The manager claimed that it was built some 80 years ago, but I find that hard to believe. 40 is probably more like it, maybe even younger than that.

Although its architectural starkness was immediately, in refocusing on the details I am reminded of some of its more subtle charms. A voraciously 1980's decor adds a bit of vibrancy to the place. The mirrored wall, for instance, on the first floor staircase landing features a pink etching of the Shwe Mann Temple, the theater's namesake. Above it, a pink neon sign reading Shwe Mann coats the atmosphere in an endearing hue of flamboyance. Throughout the upper lobby, charcoal black paint covers the walls, with glow-in-the-dark stencils of stars and asteroids dotted throughout. Taking the cake, though, is the Mickey Mouse wall-paper adorning the back wall of the upper lobby - marking a rare, albeit curious appearance of an American pop-culture figure in a country that's been held under a US trade embargo for many years. All these features give the place a down home feel that you scarcely find in cinemas anymore.

Coincidentally, the number three ranking figure in Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council is also named Shwe Mann.

A glimpse inside the auditorium courtesy of the general manager.

"I love yo' shin-yon"


  1. The Shwe Mann cinema was built around late 1950s and early 1960s. The other cinemas around this area, Tabinshwehti etc followed later

  2. Thanks for the clarification. Are the Tabinshwehti and other nearby theaters still open, or standing?