Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Asia Rama - Bangkok, Thailand

I caught him with his fingers in my pocket. Three swindling digits, not-so-gently inched down towards my wallet as I stood at the top of the bus's rear stairwell, waiting to get off. He'd positioned himself at the bottom of the stairwell, his covetous gaze nearly parallel with my pocket. The perfect predicament for a little pick-pocketry, if only he were so adept. Being the ticket inspector, he's presumably had countless opportunities to perfect the craft. I felt his clumsy fingers graze my thigh and looked down to see what it was. Caught red handed, he peered up at me, a guilty smile on his face. "It's easy to steal," he said, referring to the wallet that he never got. Apparently not so easy, you retard, now get your filthy hand out of pants before I put my knee through your chin.

The bus jerked to a halt and the door folded open. I stepped down, scowling at this dopey looking wannabe thief as he stood there crestfallen and embarrassed. 'Did the ticket inspector just try to pick my pocket?' I thought to myself as the bus pulled off. Black exhaust smoke engulfed me, further enhancing the reality of the situation. 'That's pretty amazing that the ticket inspector tried to make off with my wallet while I was standing there next to him. Pretty brazen, I tell ya.' I turned around and glanced across the street. There, on Sukhumvit Soi 71 - otherwise known as Soi Pridi Phanomyong - stood a white building which I immediately recognized as a movie theater. My befuddlement from nearly falling victim to thievery melted away. Seized by awe, I stood there slack jawed, staring up at this fortress of entertainment. I had found the Asia Rama.

The Asia Rama is a massive, functioning stand-alone movie theater on Sukhumvit Soi 71, in the Pra Khanong section of Bangkok

A couple of letters are missing from the Asia Rama's sign.

A noodle vendor prepares to open shop in the lower lobby of the Asia Rama

I wasn't immediately sure whether the Asia Rama was still showing movies or not. It only had a semi-functioning feel to it at first, as if the theater itself was closed but the building was still being used for other purposes. There were a few tables set up on the lower level for a noodle shop; a gentlemen with a small cell phone repair business was busy tinkering with a phone. I asked him if the place was still operating. He assured me that the film would start rolling at noon-sharp. Success!

Cell phone repairman in the lower lobby

Upon closer inspection, I saw just how functioning the place was. A poster display board stood in the center of the lower lobby, complete with the schedule and all. Beginning at 12:00 PM was the first of a double feature, Phobia 2, followed by Lovaholic, with a 10 minute intermission between the two. I bought a ticket at the bargain price of 50 baht and hung around talking to the guy who sold it to me until the show started.

Soda refrigerator and ticket window on the second level

The man behind the ticket window is Mr. Sakon. He's been employed at the Asia Rama in a variety of capacities for 30 years now. For the last X-number of years Sakon has been the manager, overseeing the daily operations of the old giant mostly from behind the ticket window. The Asia Rama, he said, opened in 1974, with a grand seating capacity of 1,250. It's a product of the same man who gave Bangkok such wonderful entertainment venues as the New York and the Hawaii theaters, which I've written about before, as well as the Washington and the London theaters - which I'll be posting soon. Indeed, the Asia Rama's design is very similar to the Hawaii, right down to the broad, winding staircase, the escalator in the lobby and the reddish-tint of the ticket window, not to say anything of the nearly identical facades.

Sakon, manager of the Asia Rama Theater, behind the ticket window. In front of him is a book of tickets.

The ticket taker (left), his buddy (middle) and a representative of Nakorn Luang Film Distribution Company sit in front of the door to the auditorium.

A bizzare patron at the Asia Rama shows off his nipple or tattoo, I wasn't sure.

Due to Sakon being behind the ticket window, it was a little hard to hear him clearly during our conversation. But if I'm not mistaken, he said that the original owner and builder of the Asia Rama is still alive, albeit in his 90's. I believe Sakon said the man's name is "Chansak," or something like that. But I also think I heard him say it's "Johnson," and that the man is a farang (a Westerner). Don't quote me on that - and why I didn't take the time to clarify it then and there is testament to my mediocre research skills, if nothing else - but I thought that's what I heard. If it is true, it would kind of, maybe make sense. After all, aside from the Asia Rama, the man had a penchant for naming his theaters after American and European states and cities. Anyway, whether the name is Chansak or Johnson or something else completely, I'd like to meet this former movie theater mogul. He was obviously once a big player in the Bangkok cinema scene, and has unwittingly played a role in the life of this movie theater geek, as well.

As for my movie watching experience at the Asia Rama: it was great! I'll go back again if I have the opportunity. The screen is absolutely enormous, perfectly suited to an auditorium with a seating capacity of over a thousand. After entering I sat down in the first seat closest to the entrance, in the center aisle, seemingly a good distance from the screen, yet still dominated by its sheer size. After Phobia 2 had finished, I decided against watching the second film, opting to roam around in search of more old theaters instead. But it was only when I got up and turned around to leave that I noticed that the other half of the seating was behind me, stadium style. In one quick glance this already-enormous theater revealed its true mass to me. What a place to watch a picture show!


  1. What a great find. Thanks for the links. I'll look forward to more Bangkok entries.

  2. Congratulation for your page about old Thai cinemas. It is always a pleasure to read your text and enjoy the pictures. It seems Bangkok still has a lot of gems for you to discover.

  3. Sad update...

    Asia Rama had been closed down a few months ago.Time to label this theater as "deceased".Too sad for any further comment.

  4. Thank you for the grim news, Nantawat. This is a true loss for the people of Bangkok's Prakanong neighborhood.