Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: The Siam Theatre is burned

It's another opening day for movies in Bangkok cinemas, but I don't feel much like giving my usual rundown of the new releases this week. Besides, there's a curfew and many cinemas are closed as a precaution.

I'm saddened by the loss of the Siam Theatre in Siam Square. But I am also happy to report that the sister cinemas, the Lido and the crown jewel of Siam Square, the Scala, are apparently unharmed.

The Siam, an 800-seat single-screen cinema of the Apex chain, was torched by arsonists yesterday. Fires erupted around Bangkok after an army crackdown forced the collapse of the red-shirt anti-government protests. For more than a month, the red-shirts had occupied central Bangkok's Rajprasong intersection and shut down the area's shopping malls and hotels.

The burning down of the old movie theater is insignificant in comparison to the loss of life -- as of yesterday, the Erawan Emergency Medical Center reported seven killed and 81 injured on May 19, with a total of 43 deaths and 365 injured during the clashes from May 14 to 19.

And as BobThailand pointed out on Twitter yesterday, building new shopping malls and movie theaters will be a much-easier task than trying to rebuild Thai society. There are wide divisions that became even greater with Wednesday's violence.

But the Siam Theatre contributed greatly to the culture of Bangkok movie-going and will be missed. Along with the Lido and the Scala, the Siam played an eclectic mix of first-run Hollywood movies as well as independent features that couldn't be found anywhere else. The Siam was a particularly good place to catch the latest hit movie from Japan, as well as Korean, Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies. I especially appreciate the Apex cinemas for running "foreign language" movies with the original soundtrack and English and Thai subtitles.

So many good memories. I think the last movie I saw at the Siam was Bodyguards and Assassins -- Hong Kong martial-arts and drama. A great memory of a grand theater.

Also apparently lost is the SF World multiplex at the CentralWorld shopping center, which was also lit on fire by arsonists in Wednesday's mayhem. Bangkok's biggest multiplex with 15 screens, the loss of the SFW will be inconvenient, but it can be rebuilt.

However, the Siam is an irreplaceable loss. Cinemas like that one are no longer built.

Update: More photos and thoughts about the Siam at the Southeast Asian Movie Theater Project.

Update 2: The Nation says farewell to "our beloved Siam Theatre" and notes the area was "up for demolition next year ... according to the master plan ... to be replaced by a modern shopping complex."

Update 3: Film critic Kong Rithdee comes to bury the Siam in the obituary in the Bangkok Post, remembering the theater for its "cavernous foyer, manual ticketing, dank concession stand and heavy, possibly unwashed curtains guarded by yellow-jacketed ushers as ancient as the place itself."

(Photo cross-published at the Wikimedia Commons)


  1. This is the lost-lost policy in Thailand today. The land of smile becomes the land of fight and fire.
    We are very sorry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. so sorry to see siam go, but as you indicated, scala is still there...

  3. Too sad for any comments now...