Monday, May 7, 2012

The Sri Siam Theater - Pra Pradaeng district, Samut Prakan, Thailand

Adventurous film lovers in the Bangkok area, looking for a new twist to their movie-watching experience, might want to take a jaunt over to Pra Pradaeng. There they will find one of metro Bangkok's last double feature theaters, shielded from view behind a wall of low-rise shop houses on Suksawat Road. 

Pass below the street-side marquee through the backdoor of civilization. Make a right at the big red arrow that says "Sri Siam." In the core of this quintessential working-class Bangkok suburb escapism is still affordable, without the physical addiction.

Follow the arrow pointing down a perpendicular soi and you have arrived at the Sri Siam Theater.

No less weathered than the neighborhood in which it stands, the Sri Siam

Double feature theaters, once a common site throughout metro Bangkok, have dwindled to a small handful. Numbering close to 100 at their peak, there are a grand total of 5 still operating in Bangkok and its suburbs. That number jumps up to about 12 if you include the ones that have devolved into dens for the sexually deviant. 

Historically, double feature theaters serve working-class enclaves. They are the better-value counterpart to the first-class theaters that once peppered central Bangkok with architectural splendor. At the latter, both domestic and foreign films would make their Thai premieres, usually unaccompanied by a second feature. Foreign films from, say, Hollywood or Europe, would be presented in their original language soundtrack - undubbed, but with Thai subtitles.  

Once through their first run at the downtown movie palaces, films would then circulate to the double feature theaters, where they would be combined in a two-for-one deal with a second feature. Foreign films would get Thai dubbing, making them digestible for local audiences.

The Sri Siam, now devoid of free-standing signage above the cornice.

A one-time sojourn might make for biased judgement, but intuition foretells the end for this lingering stand-alone. The air was musty, damp from neglected leaks. A sneaking sort of decay could be felt springing up from the seat stuffing. When the lights went on between features, a flop house was revealed. A half dozen dozing laborers slumped in their seats. 

To save on cleaning costs, entire sections of seating were cordoned off with rope; an ocean of seats conceded to emptiness.

Because of the stay-all-day policy there was a constant rotation of customers, but never more than a few at a time. An impression less of entertainment and leisure than of refuge from the heat prevailed.

The wainscoted lobby is one of the most endearing features of the Sri Siam.


Ticket taker with a friend and pet dog.


40 baht ticket price

A floral floor

The Sri Siam is part of a shrinking family-run chain of double feature theaters across the Bangkok suburbs. The Sri Krung and Nakorn Non Rama, the latter of which still does brisk business, are also owned by the same family. They once operated the Ngamwongwan Theater as well, but that closed down about 2 years ago.

All of the theaters run by this particular family have the same kitschy, wainscoted lobbies, which embody a cheap cathouse kind of elegance that will either make you feel right at home, or mildly nauseous, depending on your tenor.

For a bit of perspective, this is the scene directly across from Sri Siam. Workers disassemble batteries for salvageable parts.

In the end, the Sri Siam Theater is a memento from a different era, live and in the flesh. That it has not gone completely to the dogs is a miracle, or maybe just the result of attentive owners, who, even in the face of falling profits, ensure that it is first and foremost a cinema hall. 

My hat goes off to them. Here's to the last of the double feature theaters.

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