Monday, September 12, 2016

The Thein Htaik Cinema - Lashio, Shan State, Myanmar

Rounding out the trio of active stand-alone movie theaters in Lashio is one that differs markedly from the majority of Myanmar's mid-century cinema stock. Go figure! It's not actually a mid-century movie theater at all, nor was it designed in either of the hallmark Art Deco or International Style which, in Myanmar, are so indicative of the form.

The Thein Htaik Cinema was erected in the 21st century, probably the first single screen stand-alone to arise in the country since the 2000's began. True to the era, it bears none of the aesthetic charms that most older Myanmar theaters come standard with, and all the drawbacks of contemporary stock architecture, with one particularly biting shortcoming - Lashio's unfortunately easy access to cheap Chinese building materials.   

The Thein Htaik Cinema looks like it was ripped straight off of a Chinese mass construction site, the prevailing aesthetic logic of which is whatever the building, slap some glazed tile, vinyl panels and/or imitation varnished stone onto the facade and call it a castle. It's the latter material that mars the exterior of The Thein Htaik, a decor that announces the accumulation of wealth sans any accompanying notions of good taste, not unlike much of its freshly constructed ilk throughout China. Add some vertical strips of tinted glass, and voila - we've managed to achieve an opaque gangland sort of look. 

While on the subject, multiple sources claimed The Thein Htaik Cinema, as well as a nearby hotel, belong to a certain, shall we say, "Golden Triangle" business man. As part of said business man's amnesty deal with the Burmese military government back in the 1980's, he was given concessions to operate some of the local movie theaters. The 2003 grand opening of The Thain Htaik Cinema was an outcome of that. 

A stand-alone theater for its times - The Thein Htaik Cinema

Despite aesthetic lampooning, The Thein Htaik is an overall welcomed addition to downtown Lashio. The movie watching experience therein is copacetic, taking place inside a comfortable and spacious auditorium, equipped with all the latest in digital sound and projection technology. Though it may fall short in the looks department, the bi-level lobby is reminiscent of the older variety of stand-alone movie theater in Southeast Asia, designed with ample space for movie goers to lounge around and socialize before the start of a film. And in typical tropical architecture fashion, both levels are open air around the perimeter, allowing the bustle and spontaneity of the city street to blend with the fantasy world of the cinema. Simply stated, it makes the outside feel inside.

At night, The Thein Htaik punctuates the urban landscape of downtown Lashio like few other buildings do - a typical attribute of stand-alone movie theaters, whatever their aesthetic shortcomings.

But above all, it's the theater's superb interplay with the city that is its greatest strength. A lively city center is a healthy city center, where numerous opportunities to socialize and do business exist for one and all. Assuming that movie going remains a popular enough activity to attract large crowds, movie theaters like The Thein Htaik - by their very nature - help facilitate such opportunities like few other types of businesses can. Located in Lashio's commercial core, just around the corner from the much older Aung Thiri Cinema, The Thein Htaik adds the excitement of mass entertainment to a vibrant downtown atmosphere. After sundown, with it's neon lights aglow and colorful movie advertisements hanging over the street, there is no more punctuating sight in town than The Thein Htaik Cinema, confirming the adage coined by renowned American theater architect S. Charles Lee that with a good movie theater, "the show starts on the sidewalk."