Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Chalerm P. Theater - Pak Chong, Korat, Thailand

The best part of doing this work in Isan is the relatively high rate of operating stand-alone theaters found throughout. Operationalism makes this task all the more rewarding. From a photography perspective, shooting an operating movie theater versus a closed one is the difference between life and death. On a personal note, working stand-alones symbolize the world still having a bit of soul left. But even more to the point, they provide chances for me to do my little project and take in a movie the traditional way at the same time.

The lion's share of Thailand's operating stand-alone theaters are in Isan, with Pak Chong's Chalerm P. Theater among them.

Chalerm P. Theater with ad truck parked in front

Small and inviting

It was noon when I arrived at the Chalerm P. Theater, and Pak Chong's narrow streets were already sufficiently cooked. Within the little theater's lobby, brightly painted signs and coming attraction posters welcomed sun weary travelers to a shady refuge. The Isan sun is not a joking matter this time of year. It's best avoided, if possible.

3 showings per day


A theater employee paints over an old movie poster, in preparation for a new one

Small town theaters like the Chalerm P. are only given short runs on most of the movies they show. For instance, in the above photo, Jackie Chan's latest "Little Big Soldier" is allotted only two days by the distribution company. A minimal amount of regular customers make a longer showing period superfluous. It's more practical for distributors to get the film reels back and then resell them to traveling theater companies for out-door showings and private affairs.

Sun drying the latest hand painted sings

Father and son at the ticket booth

Ticket seller

Nui, the ladyboy ticket-taker, and her dog

In years gone by, almost every district in all of Thailand could boast of at least one silver screen. Not so anymore. Movie-going is now a luxury largely reserved for people in the provincial capitols, if they're so fortunate. But Pak Chong's Chalerm P. Theater hangs on, one of the Last of the Mohicans of small town movie theaters.

Ads and atriums

Theater interior

Row E

Here's some fun facts about the Chalerm P. Theater. It opened 1957, the same year that the Mittraphap Highway linking Isan with central Thailand opened. Originally it was a Likay (Thai opera) theater, but switched over to showing film by the early 1960's. At 53 years old, it is very likely that it's the oldest operating movie theater in the country, but that is not confirmed. Either way, it would be nice if the Chalerm P. Theater were able to stay in business for many years to come.


  1. another great post. Thanks! - Stefan

  2. Very best project!!!

  3. It's a legend of people in Pakchong, good memories. i grew up with it.