Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Amarin Revisited - Loei, Thailand

It had been a full year since last I set foot in Loei, ample time for the cold heart of economy to wreak havoc on an aging picture house. Loei City's blue-hued dream factory - ye olde Amarin Theater - became a source of regret for your dedicated narrator, being one of the few functioning stand-alones that I neglected to catch a movie in when I had the chance. It's a stickler of a policy, I admit, but one I feel strangely committed to all the same; even on a few occasions when my own tolerance threshold was knowingly put to the test. Compulsion makes me enter! Compulsion, plain and simple.

The Amarin Theater by day

The Amarin, thankfully, never sank to such abysmal depths, so was never any cause for concern. But the looming chance that it might simply go kaputsky; out of business; relegated to memory and then rubble piles or some other grim fate, made its patronage a priority in my book. Somebody's abandoned dream, crumbling, cinderblock by concrete cinderblock, into an urban fabric that's steadily on the decline.

The Amarin by night, a beacon of film

Dystopian bloggers aside, the world isn't always as cruel as it's cracked up to be. After all, the Amarin Theater is still open for business: Loei's cultural aorta, its cinematic ventricle, a beacon of something to do in an otherwise run-of-the-mill little town.

A silent lobby...

...waiting for movie fans..

...before the start of the film.

At 10 minutes before the 8PM start of "Confuscius," starring Chow Yun Fat, the owner of the Amarin Theater, Phanida, holds out hope that at least a few of the Loei faithful will find the time and interest to take in a movie. "Business is not good," she admitted, seated behind the ticket window glass. "Every now and then we have a decent day, but not when a Chinese movie is showing. Chinese productions don't really have the same drawing power that they used to."

I waited and waited, hoping to document a theater lobby abuzz with action. I mean, come on! Who wouldn't be intrigued by the latest in state-sponsored film propaganda from China? And isn't Chow Yun Fat still the King of Cool twenty years after being one of the top box-office draws across Asia? Apparently not.

The ticket taker and Isan movie theater aficionado. We spoke for a half hour about old movies and movie theaters. He used to work for an Isan-based movie distribution company and recalls every theater in every province of the region. A kindred spirit through and through.

A man decides whether or not to watch "Confucius" at the Amarin Theater.

To watch or not to watch?

The exchange

Phanida, the owner of the Amarin Theater, behind the ticket window.

It was a slow night at the Amarin's box-office, with a turn-out of less than a dozen, myself included. Phanida and the other theater staff were warm and accommodating, nonetheless, welcoming the photo session and happy to talk movies and the theater business in general.

Dating only to 1977, the Amarin was the second movie theater venture undertaken by Phanida's family. An elder sibling built the now-closed Peth Rama back in the late 1960's. When questioned about the Amarin's future in the face of paltry ticket sales, Phanida smiled, playfully balled up a fist and waving it in the air exclaimed "we're fighting on!"


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