Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Nakorn Non Rama - Nonthaburi, Thailand

In a city once teeming with them, Bangkok's collection of double-feature stand-alone movie theaters has been whittled down to a handful over the years. Almost gone are the days when Bangkokians could walk a few minutes to the neighborhood movie house and wile away a miserably hot afternoon with two movies for the price of one. Almost gone, that is, but not completely.

By all reasonable accounts there are no more than seven such double-feature stand-alones still in operation, and one of those is a "cruising theater" (don't go in unless your looking for an encounter with Good-times Somchai). The remaining six are spread throughout Bangkok's peripheral neighborhoods, with one as far north as Pathumthani.

Of those which have managed to weather the multiplex storm, four have yet to be featured on this archive. Make that three as of last weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project proudly presents, for the first time on the small screen, in technicolor and Cinemascope, from the rough and tumble streets of Nonthaburi, Thailand: the Nakorn Non Rama.

The Nakorn Non Rama: one of the last active stand-alones in Bangkok.

The Nakorn Non Rama is a massive physical entity. Big enough to warrant a guided tour. What you see in the above two photos is indeed the facade, however, its main purpose is less structural as it is aesthetic. The theater structure itself is recessed from the street-side building line. This facade, then, unique in its masking rather than practical function, brings a smoothness of continuity to the the streetscape which would otherwise have a gap where the Nakorn Non Rama stands.

Where the two banners hang in the above photo was designed to be a support frame for hand painted movie billboards. Sadly, this once-standard craft went extinct in Bangkok in the late 1990's, much to the detriment of peoples' eyes and imaginations. To the best of my knowledge, movie billboard painters are still employed in parts of southern Thailand as well as few towns in the eastern-central provinces. Other than that they're hard to come by. I wish I knew what the Chinese characters on the left hand side said.

An atrium with a plexiglass roof separates the structure's facade from the theater.

Step back behind the facade and into a spacious atrium area used to park motorbikes. Tuk-tuks and a few food vendors have likewise taken up residence in this area. In the background is the theater structure itself.

On the ground level of the theater is an open foyer consisting of a movie poster case and some fancy ceiling decorations.

In the photo below, the man posing in a boxing stance claims he was once the muay Thai Bantam Weight champion of the world. He now runs a boxing gym on the top level of the Nakorn Non Rama. A boxing gym on the premises of a movie theater, I can guarantee you, is a novel amalgamation.

Former Bantam weight champ turned gym owner at the Nakorn Non Rama

Along both wings of the foyer lies an elegantly curving staircase. Its ascent will lead you to the Nakorn Non Rama's plush lobby and auditorium beyond.

Sequenced neon lights around the inner marquee. "N" is for Nakorn Non.

Up on the second level, a quintet of open arches allows natural light to illuminate the lobby. Down below, beyond the atrium, the age of the combustion engine is reduced to a distant hum. Feel free to plop down on a bench and light up a smoke while you wait for the film reel to role.

Resident cat naps beside the poster case. In the background the cinema beckons.

This gentleman has been tearing tickets at the Nakorn Non Rama for over 20 years.

Lobby lounging

Ticket booth

The banner above the ticket booth reads: "This theater has surveillance equipment for catching people taking illegal video and other infractions. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The Nakorn Non Rama: after 29 years in business, still a destination for dates.

Sign at the ticket window reads: "Please count your change." Would Major or SF ever be so considerate?

Side wing along the auditorium

These mugs are banned from entering

Despite my best efforts, auditorium photographs were strictly forbidden - a shame considering the sheer size and decorative aspects of the place. Nobody knew for certain, but a few staff members estimated the theater at 800 to 1000 seats. I'd have liked to take a nice, long exposure shot using a tripod, but the manager wouldn't budge. Anyway, this should be more impetus for you to go check it out on your own.

Two young patrons chatting over snacks in the lobby.

Signage and symbolism

Cut-out letters and film reels mounted on the theater's cornice.

The era of the stand-alone movie theater in Thailand tapered off in mid to late 1980's. By the 1990's, department stores old and new were being outfitted with their own theaters, as going to the movies somehow got confused with going shopping. By the turn of the century the bulk of Thai movie-goers had capitulated to the multiplex. Stand-alone theaters, be they double-feature, first-run or otherwise began to close en mass. Today the movie exhibition market is on the verge of being cornered by two huge conglomerates and their branded multiplex chains. Glorified mediocrity at its most virulent. But in the face of such adversity, the Nakorn Non Rama stands firm. Reasonable ticket prices, a stay-all-day policy and a down home spirit are enough endowments to keep the old theater comfortably in the black. Hopefully it can continue to do so well into the future.

If you live in the Bangkok area, do yourself a favor and go spend an afternoon at the Nakorn Non Rama. Hang out in the open-air lobby for a while. Take a breather there between films. You'll be seeing much more than a movie, I guarantee you that. The theater is a 10 minute walk straight up the road from the Nonthaburi port. If you want to know what's showing there before hand, check out this web-site.

The Nakorn Non Rama was built in 1982, a later addition to Thailand's stand-alone theater circuit.


  1. The Chinese letters on the side read: "Five Blessings Big Theater". Great photos. I went to this theater last night for a double feature. There was no one left when the second picture finished and the lights came up, so I was able to get a good shot of the auditorium. I had no idea this was not permitted.

  2. Nice work shooting the auditorium. It's definitely a unique room. Any interest in having your photo posted on the site?

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