Saturday, February 26th, 2011
Dedicated followers of my going-on’s might know that I went off for a week in Western China during the Lunar New Year period. For someone that has only been to Shenzhen for no longer than a few hours, this first trip inside China is both daunting and exciting. Of course, since it was a personal trip, not everything is worth talking about here, but I’ll post some movie-related things on this blog entry, and there were a few of those:
Since there’s only one direct chartered flight from Hong Kong to the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, I had to fly out from Guangzhou, THE major city in Southern China. The only affordable food in Baiyun Airport was McDonald’s and a fast food chain whose title translates to “Real Kung Fu”. Why is the place called a “Hong Kong-style” fast food place? This is why:
This chain can afford to buy his image, and Manfred Wong can’t afford to buy his life story?
Since it was the winter, there wasn’t much to do in Urumqi, except for doing the Lunar New Year family visits, and of course, watching movies. There aren’t many newer movie theaters in Urumqi, though the theaters have already all switched to digital projections a few years back. One of the most popular movie theaters in the city is The People’s Cinema. Located in the southern central part of town:
You might be wondering why there’s Arabic-like letterings above the Chinese letters. That’s because 45% of the population in Xinjiang Province are Uyghurs, and they speak their own unique language. Instead of Chinese and English, most official signs are in Chinese and Uyghur instead. The Han Chinese-Uyghur ratio leans much, much more towards Han Chinese in the capital city of Urumqi, but language policy is language policy.
Anyway, The People’s Cinema, which is literally across the street from the Peace Theater, is quite large - about five stories, and has a total of 12 screens:
The box office. Average ticket price: RMB40
I wanted to catch Andy Lau’s WHAT WOMEN WANT, but for time reasons, I caught the Mainland Chinese comedy MY OWN SWORDSMAN instead:
Oh, look, there’s that other Andy Lau movie, too.
Even though MY OWN SWORDSMAN proved to be immensely popular, we got sent up to the small house on the top floor, which I estimated had less than 100 seats. The screen wasn’t big (perhaps no smaller than a small cineplex house in Hong Kong), and the film was shown in digital projection. However, my big problem was the audio. Despite having been renovated (or so I was told), the theater’s surround speakers were the only thing that sounded clear and normal. The center speaker (located behind the screen) was muffled and flat. Since the dialogue almost always come from the center speaker, that means it was very hard to catch the dialogue. Thankfully, since the film relied on local accents for its humor, it has simplified Chinese subtitles.
I will be reviewing the film for the site later, but I will say that I enjoyed it far more than I had expected. The Chinese language-based humor was great, and even a lot of the film’s modern humor (infomercial parody, internet slangs) translated to plenty of laughs. The audience was talky as hell, as one can expect for a commercial film screening in China, but it didn’t totally detract from the film experience.
I went to a multiplex on the other side of town a few days later for WHAT WOMEN WANT, which you can read the review for here. Unfortunately, I did not take pictures of the theater, but it’s a small, six-screen multiplex on the third floor of a hotel building that I couldn’t find any internet listing for. Worse yet, it’s also across the street from the city’s brand-new multiplex. I still can’t figure out why we didn’t go there instead, because the Tianshan multiplex not only played the film below the usual volume (which may be why the film felt like it dragged a little bit), it also played the film in the wrong aspect ratio in order to fit it on its permanently 1.85:1 aspect ratio screen.
The above is from across the street of the city’s other big theater (the one with the domed roof), the People’s Theater (I know, it’s always people’s something in a communist country). Not only does it now have 3D equipment, it also houses more than 10 auditoriums. It’s Urumqi’s oldest theater, and it’s been renovated as well. When I entered, it had metal detectors at the entrances due to the city’s security situation.
The general assessment I get is that Urumqi still hasn’t quite caught up to being good enough to really attract people to get out of their houses and to the movies. I’ve heard before that Chinese multiplexes have to be up to a good standard in order to make people feel like movie tickets are worth buying, and either the people of Urumqi don’t care enough, or people just don’t know how to run a decent theater. Cushy seats and digital projections make things easier, but you need people who know how to project a film properly or make sure the speakers run normally to give people the true theater experience. Sadly, that’s not what I saw.
As for the rest of the trip, I ate a lot of lamb, and I literally could not find a place that had a decent selection of legit DVDs. Such is the biggest city in Western China.
One day, I hope to go across the river over to Shenzhen to see what the newer movie theaters are like, and more on the movie world from a moviegoer’s point of view in China.