Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Chiang Khong Rama Theater - Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Countless pedestrians have strolled past this building, oblivious to the fact that for a long time it was the only venue in Chiang Khong for locals to spend their leisure time. Yes, from 1962 until about 1990 the Chiang Khong Rama was this sleepy Mekong town's portal into another world.

A minutia of evidence: Coming soon!

Before the joys of cinema were given a permanent home at the Chiang Khong Rama, Chiang Khong's denizens had a Likay hall (Likay is a kind of Thai theatrical performance) which occasionally screened films. Nothing more. In 1962, the father-in-law of Dongsawang Intrapornudom, pictured below with his wife Jae, figured that Chiang Khong was ripe for a movie theater of its own - thus was born the Chiang Khong Rama.

Lets have a look inside!

View from balcony, overlooking the mezzanine and where the screen used to be. The Chiang Khong Rama Theater is now a warehouse, storing products that Dongsawang sends across the Mekong to Laos.

Wooden pillar holding up the balcony.

Jae standing on the balcony. The photo is looking towards the projection and sound windows at the rear. Notice the ceiling fans above.

Old wooden seats.

The projection/sound room. The square window next to the door was where the projector worked its magic.

Poster for Sydney Pollack's 1975 clasic 3 Days of the Condor. In Thai it translates to "3 Dangerous Days."

Side view of the Chiang Khong Rama Theater, with the Intrapornudom's house and garden beside it.

This photo was taken at the Intrapornudom's house. Jae is holding a poster of Mitr Chaibancha, the top male actor in Thai film from the late 1950's until he died on the set of a movie, Insee Thong, in 1970. He was killed when he fell from a rope ladder, dangling from a helicopter. The poster, which was hung outside of the theater for a year after Mitr passed, reads:

With deepest regret for the loss of Mitr Chaibancha

Chiang Khong Rama Theater and Mitrasilp Photo Studio
Mitr's death is considered the saddest day in the history of the Thai film indstry.
Dongsawang was in his early 20's when his father-in-law built the Chiang Khong Rama Theater. After his father-in-law passed away, Donsawang became the sole proprietor, operating the theater until TV and video became widespread in Chiang Khong and the crowds stopped coming. In the 45 minutes we spent together he was able to recount a multitude of stories from his days as movie theater boss. He recalled that Laotians from across the river would cross over on the weekends to come to the movies and that at times, he would hold illegal, after-hours pornography viewings for the good old boys in town, just to name a few. Those days, however, are quickly fading memories.

In the last decade or so, Chiang Khong has found new economic life trading with a more market-oriented Laos. For a small town it has developed a decent sized tourist industry thanks to the immigration check-point that's there, as well. But to their great disadvantage, the people of Chiang Khong no longer have the Chiang Khong Rama Theater to rely on for a bit of escapism.

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