The Chinese Movie Theater Experience

So last weekend I did something that I dreaded on doing for a while- I went to a Chinese movie theater. Now don’t get me wrong- I love going to movie theaters. When I lived in Dallas, I went to Alamo Drafthouse almost every week. I love movies and the movie theater experience that Alamo has to offer. They kick out anyone that talks/texts and offers a fine selection of craft beer and fresh food from scratch. The Chinese movie theater I went to was the polar opposite of Alamo Drafthouse.

My first big problem with movies in China is the censorship and government regulation of foreign movies in general. Even if a foreign movie does come out in China, it usually takes a few months after it was released in USA to actually go through the censors and get a theater release. When it does eventually get released, there is no guarantee that the government didn’t edit out or alter the movie to quell anything not in the interest of the government. The ironic thing is that bootleg DVD stores that sell the unedited version of movies (even new releases that are still in theaters) are all over China and are seemingly tolerated.

The second hesitation I had with going to a Chinese movie theater was the type of audience I would be sharing the theater with. Chinese people talk very loudly and I had heard stories about them being very inconsiderate in a movie setting. Even in USA, if someone talks or texts on their phone the entire experience is ruined for me. That’s why Alamo Drafthouse is so valuable- they kick everyone out that does this and leave the adults to watch movies.

Alas, despite my reservations, one Monday that my girlfriend and I had off we decided to see Cinderella. This is a classic Disney fairy tail with little that could be interpreted as revolutionary capitalistic propaganda by the Chinese government so we figured it was a safe bet to see in the theaters unedited. Furthermore, we decided to see it at the Palace Theater in IFC Mall. For those not familiar with Shanghai, IFC Mall is a super high scale mall that houses all the brands from Prada to Louis Vuitton. It is considered ultra high class and a place where we thought would be out of the typical loud/stupid moviegoer’s price range. On top of all this, we picked a time where most people would be at school or work (4pm on a Monday). With all of this going for it, how bad could it be? Turns out, very bad.

First let me say that the movie theater itself was very nice- comfortable seats, crystal clear picture, and a booming loud audio system. It was also very clean and deserved the name “Palace Theater” on account of its very Romanesque decor. The problem was with our fellow patrons. Buying the ticket was easy enough. They were about 100RMB ($16) a pop and the girl at the box office spoke adequate English. After finding our seats, the movie started at about 4:15pm and immediately I was disappointed- people talking behind us. They were not whispering either- they were talking as if they were sitting across from each other eating dinner. I thought this would stop as the movie started to go on- but no, this continued pretty continuously throughout the movie. There were also about two or three people that were on their cellphones constantly (one guy even answered a call on his). I understand that guys might not be dying to get out of their house and see Cinderella with their girlfriends, but does it even count as going if you go if you are texting all throughout the movie? Furthermore, even if just one person uses their cellphone, the glare of light it emits ruins the movie for everyone behind that person.

The really bizarre (and almost in a comical way) came midway through the movie where Cinderella was transformed into her gown for the ball. There was magic done by the fairy godmother to Cinderella’s gown to make it glow blue and emit a shimmering display of special effects. At this moment, about five different people sitting in different parts of the theater thought it was so magical that they had to record the video using their cell phones. Really?! Do I even have to comment here? That sort of thing will get you kicked out of any theater in USA and in some cases arrested by the police. What really blows my mind was that there were about five people doing it- meaning it was common enough to not just be a fluke. Everyone talking, using their phones, and recording the movie absolutely decimated the movie going experience.

The movie was pretty good (as good as it can be for a guy going along with his girlfriend). The cinematography was great and Disney proved that they can still tell the same classic tale and make it interesting to watch. About halfway through the movie I realized the actor that played the prince was the same one that played Rob Stark in Game of Thrones. I wanted to yell and warn him not to go to The Red Wedding, however I refrained.

In short, the best way to watch a movie in China is to buy the bootleg and watch it in your own apartment. Experiences like these make me really miss Alamo Drafthouse (or even a regular USA movie theater). If I can’t get more enjoyment out of going to a movie theater than I could by staying at home and watching the DVD- then what’s the point?

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