Here are some frequently asked questions about going to the movies in Thailand.
What's so special about Thai films?
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Thai films have become a mainstay on the international film festival circuit. Internationally, the Thai films that have gained big reputations are action films like Ong-Bak, horror like Shutter, cult-film like Tears of the Black Tiger and arthouse such as Tropical Malady or Last Life in the Universe.
Thai films are just like films from anywhere in the world: They tell a story. But Thai films are imbued with aspects of Thai culture, the language, as well as Buddhism and belief in ghosts, which makes them different from films from other Asian countries.
Some of the most entertaining Thai films take things to extremes: bone-jarring violence, scream-out-loud scares, gut-wrenching heartbreaks, debilitating sadness and just plain craziness. It's hard to define, but there's a certain loopy quality about Thai films.
By all means, if you are in Thailand, you should see a Thai film and find out what all the excitement is about.
Do Thai films in cinemas in Thailand have English subtitles?
Most always in central Bangkok the Thai films will have English subtitles, especially if they are from a major studio like Sahamongkol, GTH, Phranakorn, Five Star or RS Film. Some small studio and independent releases won't have the subs. If you're not sure, ask at the box office.
Often, seeing a Thai film in the cinema will be the only way you can see it with subtitles, because when they are released on DVD in Thailand, there are no English subtitles and not all Thai films are released in English-friendly territories (please see FAQs about Thai films on DVD).
However, outside of the Bangkok metro area (but still in Thailand), sometimes the Thai films will not have subtitles.
What about Hollywood movies? Will they have the original soundtrack?
In the Bangkok metropolitan area, the Hollywood imports will most always have the original soundtrack and Thai subtitles. This will also be the case for major tourist areas and cities with major expat populations, such as Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai, but most notably not Hua Hin, where Thai-dubbed movies seem to be the rule.
Often there will be a choice of "soundtrack", meaning the original audio, and a Thai dub.
What about movies from other Asian countries?
These are trickier. For Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese films, the original soundtrack with English and Thai subtitles will generally be found at the Apex cinemas in Siam Square (Lido, Siam, Scala), House on RCA, and sometimes at the two major-chain flagship multiplexes in central Bangkok – at Paragon Cineplex (run by Major Cineplex) and SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Outside of those, the non-English, non-Thai films will generally be dubbed in Thai.
Who are the major players in the movie business in Bangkok?
The biggest multiplex operator is Major Cineplex, owned by the Poolvaraluck family. A rival branch of the Poolvaraluck clan owned the EGV chain, which was the No. 2 operator until family differences were smoothed over and it was absorbed by Major Cineplex in 2004. EGV has largely faded from the landscape. Major Cineplex also runs the Paragon Cineplex, the Esplanade, Paradise and Mega.
The next biggest theater operator is the SF Group, owned by the Thongrompo family, and it includes SF World, SFX and the SF Cinema City theaters. Bangkok also has the Apex theaters in Siam Square as well as Major Hollywood, UMG, Century and House.
Where are the best places to watch movies?
I tend to prefer the Apex cinemas in Siam Square. The Scala, a 1,000-seat single-screen Art Deco edifice, generally has first-run Hollywood features. I walk out of the Scala feeling like I've really seen a movie. There was also The Siam, a 900-seat single-screener. It showed a lot of imports from Japan and Korea, but it burned down on May 19, 2010, in the deadly aftermath of the red-shirt political protests. In between the Scala and the former Siam location is the Lido, a three-screen multiplex, which shows independent and arthouse features. Their movies tend to hang around longer than they will at the other multiplexes in Bangkok.
Another cool place is House cinema on the third floor of the UMG multiplex and Tops supermarket in RCA Plaza on Royal City Avenue. House has some of the same selection as the Apex chain, but is more eclectic, showing a greater variety of foreign features, arthouse and documentaries. The big drawback about House is its location, which is not within comfortable walking distance of any of the mass-transit rail lines. The closest stop is the subway's Petchaburi station. From there it's perhaps a five-minute taxi ride. And then it's harder to get away from, because of the way traffic flows. It's well worth the effort in getting there though.
Paragon and SF World are standbys. Just because of their sheer size, there is generally always something starting at any time of day, often until late. Other cinemas easily accessed along the BTS skytrain line include SF Cinema City MBK at the National Stadium station. Century is at Victory Monument, and there's also SFX The Emporium at Phrom Phong and Major Cineplex Sukhumvit at Ekamai. Along the MRT subway, there is Esplanade Ratchaphisek at the Thailand Cultural Centre Station. As of 2011, there's the new SF branch at Terminal 21 at BTS Asok/MRT Sukhumvit and the Central Rama 9 mall at MRT Rama 9 station, opposite Fortune Town.
How do I find out what's playing and when?
There was MovieSeer, but it went dark in 2013. You can also try Moveedoo.
Major Cineplex, which includes EGV, Paragon and Esplanade, has showtimes on its main website, as does the No 2 chain, SF Group. Both have mobile-web platforms and apps for popular smartphones. Apex and House also have websites. You can also check the Bangkok Post. Often at the big multiplexes, the showtimes will change, so the websites and newspaper ads will be incorrect.
What's so cool about going to the cinema in Thailand?
It's freaking cold! Most places keep the air conditioning at frigid temperatures, so a jacket or extra wrap wouldn't be a bad idea.
How do you buy movie tickets?
I usually walk right up to the ticket window to purchase them. Seating is assigned. You pick out your seat at the ticket window. Seats cost around 120 baht to 140 baht, though it is occasionally cheaper, depending on the day of the week, the time of day and how close to the screen you sit. The seats in the back are the most expensive.
There are various online-ticket purchasing schemes, or reservation by phone, but I've found them too complicated to mess with. I don't really find them necessary, anyway. Except for certain IMAX films at Paragon. Then you might want to book ahead to get the best seat.
How late do the movies run?
Some theatres around Bangkok will generally have shows starting as late as 10 or 11pm. A couple good late-night movie venues are Major Cineplex Sukhumvit at Ekkamai and SF Cinema City at Terminal 21. Other mall multiplexes will have you take a long, scary, late-night walk through the parking garage, which can be pretty inconvenient.
Some theaters in Pattaya have shows starting at 1am, and usually have the new releases showing late on Wednesday nights, a day ahead of when they are released in Bangkok.
When are new movies released?
New releases come out each week on Thursday, giving the business an extra day of that all-important opening weekend revenue. Sometimes if there's a holiday, the new movies will open even earlier in the week.
What's the deal with those "gold class" seats?
You'll sit in a big, cushy, recliner in a smaller screening room. There will be a blanket and pillow to curl up with, and you might even have your popcorn and drinks brought to your chair as if you were being waited on in restaurant. Theaters offering this service include the Gold Class at the Grand EGV Seacon, the Nokia Ultra Screen at Paragon and the First Class at SF World. The tickets are pricey, around six to eight times the usual cost, but it's something to do for a special date, long movies or the big "event" films. There's also the Enigma theater at Siam Paragon, which are bed-like platforms that you lounge on while watching a movie.
Are there IMAX theaters in Thailand?
Bangkok has just one true IMAX cinema offering the full-size IMAX screen. It's at Paragon Cineplex. You'll want to sit in the back and in the center to get the full affect. Otherwise, forget it. Those seats tend to fill up quickly, so you might want to book in advance.
The IMAX chain has opened two "IMAX Digital" theaters at Major Cineplex Ratchayothin and Major Pinklao. These screens are slightly smaller than Paragon's, and the projection is all digital, not film like at Paragon.
What about censorship and ratings?
Prior to August 2009, all films were subject to censorship by the Thai police under a 1930 law. Their rules were enforced inconsistently, but generally took a dim view on sex and nudity, and the scenes deemed offensive would be smudged out or clumsily chopped with scissors. Sometimes violent scenes and instances of drug use would be pixellated or smudged like on Thai television, but not always.
After August 2009, a ratings system came into place, and films are given a rating and are theoretically not censored, though sometimes they are.
The ratings system has six classifications: P for films that should be promoted as educational, G for general audiences, 13+, 15+ and 18+ age advisories and 20- age restriction with ID check required. There is also a hidden seventh category, which is for films that are banned.
Thai films continue to be subject to censorship, primarily for political reasons, with national security being invoked. Under the new process, the Thai films that are censored and make it to the big screen have gone through a vetting process and are edited by the filmmakers, so most audiences will be unaware of the behind-the-scenes censorship dealings.
Do I have to stand up for the Royal Anthem?
Yes. The Royal Anthem is played after the previews and commercials and before the main feature. It accompanies a montage of images in tribute to His Majesty the King and it's customary to stand as a sign of respect to the monarchy. You will likely be in serious trouble if you do not. Take your seat again after the anthem concludes.
And, turn off your mobile telephone.
(Photos cross-published at Wikimedia Commons)