Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Sri Pong Cineplex - Phimai District, Khorat, Thailand

The civilizational record in Phimai dates back ten centuries to the once-powerful Ankorian Khmers. Masters of hydrology like the current Bangkok authorities could only dream, imperial Angkor built its empire through the careful retention and management of water. They legitimized their rule via monumental architecture, like the temple shown here in the center of modern Phimai town.

Phimai Historical Park, with its manicured landscaping and curation, is the showcase of the town. The rest of the city feeds off its magnanimity, takes a cue from it.

A wall surrounds Phimai. Not an ancient one like can be found ringing other Thai towns, but a modern wall built of concrete and rebar. The wall has succeeded in keeping out invaders. Most notably, hypermarket retailers and big chain stores, a lone 7-11 the exception. Local moms and pops are protected from such predatory schemers. Car congestion is also nipped in the bud by this defensive mechanism. The result is one of the most pleasant towns Thailand has to offer.

The insulation provided by the wall and the pride taken in Phimai's ancient stone heritage was palpable. Locals seemed to relish the quiet, the human scale and neighborly atmosphere. It was detectable at the Sri Pong Cineplex, where expectant crowds, mostly families and young couples, gathered under the theater's awning, reclined in easy conversation while waiting for the doors to open.

A plain, but honest design.
The Sri Pong is a second generation movie theater. Just six years ago it replaced an old wooden theater dating to the 1950's, which was apparently falling apart. Instead of easing out of the theater business, using the land for some lesser purpose - a parking lot, a warehouse, a watering hole with cheap plastic chairs and tables - the proprietary family built anew, naming it in honor of the husband's deceased father-cum-founder of the old wooden theater, Mr. Pong.

At six years old the Sri Pong is the newest independently-owned stand-alone I've come across is Thailand.

Young step-climbers.

Three teens pull up on a motorbike to see what's in the movie queue.

Being as new as it is, the Sri Pong is equipped with all the latest technologies. The Dolby Digital surround sound was crisp, the projection sharp. A Thai rendition of the Kurasawa masterpiece "Roshomon," called "The Outrage," proved the point, and turned out to be a decent movie in the process.

The Sri Pong Cineplex is the cherry on the top of a great little town.

The owner collects viewing fare at the door, as young patrons shuffle through.

Rolling credits, departing crowds.

The grand exit was copacetic, cinematic even, left alone under the fluorescent external lights of the Sri Pong. It's this quality of the stand-alone theater which attracts me so: whether solitary or in the presence of a large crowd, the exit from the theater to the streets marks a return from fantasy to reality in which the two are temporarily blended. An intangible, maybe, coming from one who's spent his life on foot, but no less real.

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