Monday, September 8, 2014

Khemsawat Cinema Revisited

It was five years ago that the Khemsawat Cinema was first entered into the annals of Southeast Asian movie theater history. At that primeval juncture in the life of this project, raw data on theater's past was unattainable. The parts that made it to print were, admittedly, no more than sensationalist conjectures about a theater in a town infamous for its ties to the dope trade.

This past March, all that circa-2009 speculative drivel was finally laid to rest. The Khemsawat in all its post-cinematic humility was revisited, its current owners interviewed and new light shed on this cinema relic of upper-most Thailand.  


The Khemsawat Cinema - Fang, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand


Unfortunately, the newly acquired "hard data" is pretty dry. There are no reports of forthcoming plans to renovate the Khemsawat and return it to its exalted glory days as Fang's lone movie theater. Most findings were rather sedate. 

But, as is often the case, the research included a distant hopefulness on the part of the owner; a hopefulness which could be the seed of regeneration if the planets align in just the right way.



Stand-alone movie theaters add color and diversity to city streets. 


Night views

A little over a year ago, the Khemsawas Cinema was purchased from its original owner by Sudaphorn Tansuhaj and her husband Ahkom. The couple, who own the adjacent Little Home Resort and several adjoining shophouses, fixed up the theater's lobby just enough so that it could be rented. A Japanese restaurant has since moved in, adding life to what was most recently a dank cave, per se.

The renovations did not entail any structural or otherwise irreversible changes to the space, so should that tiny seed of regeneration ever sprout, the lobby could be easily reclaimed for theatrical purposes.


Bare bones auditorium

The Khemsawat was built in 1975, the first theater in Fang built of brick and mortar. But declining attendance led to it's closure before it would even reach its 30th anniversary. 

On the mezzanine level, the most recent seating type was in the form of bucket seats made of pressed plywood. Older forms of seating were left intermingled, such as a few rows of folding bench seats made of teak, and the original non-folding teak benches. Balcony level seating, presumably higher grade stuffed chairs for those willing to dish out a bit more, had been removed.


Old wooden seats
All this talk of movie theater seats is not unwarranted. In fact, Ms. Sudaphorn made a point of saying that the plywood stock on the lower level was purchased secondhand from a theater owner in Chiang Mai named Loet, last name Shinawatra. That is, father of ousted PM's Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. Indeed, when Loet Shinawatra closed his Sri Visan Theater on Tha Phae Road in downtown Chiang Mai, he sold the seats to the Khemsawat, turning a minor business transaction into an equally minor political footnote from a very unlikely place.

And on that note, of all the Thailand-based alternate histories that are waiting to be written, this is one that begs an author: Had Thaksin Shinawatra and the Shinawatra family's cinema business gone in the same direction as Thailand's other big movie theater families - like the Poonworaluk's (Major Cineplex) and the Thongrompho's (SF Cinema), Thailand as we know it today, flush with political divide, might have never existed.


Pressed plywood seats originally used in a Shinawatra family theater in Chiang Mai.


Signage from behind


Signage from the front

Seat-related intrigues aside, the only other point about the Khemsawat Cinema that's worthy of mention is that ever-so-slight manifestation of hope expressed by Ahkom for his theater's future. In the process of trying to figure out the best use for the now-gutted space, Ahkom explained that he has considered reviving it for arts and entertainment purposes. Chances are slim of that becoming a reality, but the thought alone is a starting point. 

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