Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Thang Long Cinema - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Renovated and illuminated shimmers the Thang Long Cinema. For the past year, a crisp metal paneling has covered the original facade, deceptively masking the theater's true age. By one account, this three-screen stand-alone dates back to the early 1960's, when Saigon was ruled by the iron-fisted, but ill-fated regime of Ngo Dinh Diem: John F. Kennedy's wrong answer to Ho Chi Minh. Diem, a repressive dictator with not much in the way of mass appeal, met an assassin's bullet less than a month before Kennedy did, while less than two years later the United States embarked on the most wanton and protracted war of the 20th century. The rest is...

Miraculously, the Thang Long Cinema survived the carnage of war and now, given its recent renovations, appears to be sticking it out through the carnage of a fast moving economy: a potentially equally devastating fate if you're an old building. Saigon Movies Media has bucked the trend, however. The small, locally-owned theater chain/movie distributor poured a ton of money into the Thang Long as a means of bringing it up to date. The investment seems to be paying off. While shooting the place, a few dozen motorcyclists pulled up on the sidewalk to check the show times from two high-def TV screens mounted above the door. Can't do that in a shopping mall! But more to the point, people were buying tickets.

Young couples left agonizing traffic to examine movie schedules

"What time does Avatar start?"

Looking down from the upper level over the lobby all shiny and new.

Ticket queue

There wasn't enough time to see a movie at the Thang Long, but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying my visit. It was kind of cool to see all those people jump the curb on their motorbikes to check out the show times. And even though the new facade is a bit uninspired by my tastes, at least they're trying. Hopefully the material is mounted so that it can some day be removed without harming the original structure.

That also wraps up my series of raps from HCMC. Needless to say, there's a lot that I didn't get around to. Ho Chin Minh City deserves a much longer commitment that the 6 or 7 days I spent there. The place is vast.

I'll leave you with a short piece from the Saigon Times about the future growth of movie theaters in Vietnam:

More cinemas in coming years

Vietnam now has around 86 million people but there are only about ten cinemas which meet international standards, most in Hanoi and HCMC. The film industry has decided to open more cinemas to meet the high demands and interests of customers who are mostly between 15 and 30 years old.

Hall told the Daily, “Megastar’s plan is to find new locations in Hanoi and HCMC to open in 2011, 2012 and 2013. We already have a number of sites in mind. We will also carefully watch the performance of our 3D cinemas in Megastar Hung Vuong Plaza and Megastar Vincom City Tower to determine if we should add more 3D screens to these and other Megastar locations in future.”

Anh Loan of Saigon Movies Media said her company this year would open four new film centers in District 1 and 3. Galaxy in April will inaugurate Galaxy Tan Binh in Bau Cat, Tan Binh Distrcit, Khanh Tung told the Daily.

Thang Long = Flying Dragon

(Many thanks to Dang, An Nhien and Cherry for their time, generosity and valuable insights into Saigonese ways)

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