Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yaowarat Ching Hua Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

Chinatown in Bangkok: where many of Thailand's most prominent business families got their start. From meager origins as laborers and petty traders in the early years of the 20th century, Chinese immigrant families based in this neighborhood built empires. They also built movie theaters - about 7 of them. One of the first was the Yaowarat Ching Hua Theater.

A life long resident of Chinatown (Yaowarat in Thai) told me that the Yaowarat Ching Hua Theater opened over 70 years ago and was financed by an elder sibling of the then King Prajodhipok. It originally functioned as a Peking Opera theater (Gniw), but switched over to showing movies as the medium increased in popularlity.

An old marquee is all the remaining evidence visible from the street.

Ticket booth inside the front portion of the structure, off the street. There were two ticket booths, the other directly across from this one.

The theater has two sections. The first fronts onto busy Charoen Krung Road and contained the ticket booths within a long corridor leading to the auditorium. On both sides of the entrance to the auditorium, steps ascend upwards, giving access to the balcony and projection booth in the rear portion of the building, some office space in the front and little dwelling units around the perimeter.

The stairs going away from the picture leads to private residences, while the ones coming in lead to the balcony, projection booth and office space. This picture was taken from between the front portion of the building and the auditorium.

Several movie scenes where filmed in these narrow corridors, including a scene from the 1996 hit Sunset at Chaophraya, starring Thongchai McIntyre.

Remains of the projection room.

Looking towards what once was the auditorium. It's now a parking lot.

The auditorium. Notice the curved cross beams which once must have supported a curved ceiling.

Rear of the auditorium

This is Mr. Paitung Cherngphitak, a life long resident of Chinatown and my source of information on the Yaowarat Ching Hua Theater. He runs a noodle stand inside the front corridor. Not to contradict Paitung, but I question whether he's correct about the theater being funded by a member of the royal family. At that time the royals and Chinese community were at odds with each other. Growing Thai nationalism, spearheaded by members of the royal family and other indigenous elites, regarded the Chinese community as an alien threat to the country, and potential usurpers of the throne. It would seem incongruous for a royal family member to build a Peking Opera theater in the middle of the biggest Chinese immigrant community in the country. But then again, maybe it was gift of appeasement. Thai politics has always seemed convoluted to me.

The Yaowarat Ching Hua Theater continued showing films through most of the 1990's, before it was converted into a parking garage.

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