Friday, May 21, 2010

The Siam Theatre is burned

With Wednesday's crackdown on the red-shirt political protest and the subsequent deaths, mayhem and arson that took place afterward, 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, according to man-on-the-scene Richard Barrow.

The Siam, a 44-year-old 800-seat single-screen cinema of the Apex chain, was torched by arsonists in fires that 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 -- the Erawan Emergency Medical Center reported seven killed and 81 injured on May 19, with a total of 52 deaths and 399 injured in clashes between protesters and troops since May 14.

And as BobThailand pointed out on Twitter, building new shopping malls and movie theaters will be much easier 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 lost is the SF World multiplex at the CentralWorld shopping center, which was also torched by arsonists in Wednesday's mayhem. Film Business Asia talked to SF Cinema City boss Suvannee Chinchiewchan about what it means for Thailand's film industry and the Bangkok International Film Fetival.

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.

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

Update: 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 2: 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."

(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene; photo cross-published at the Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Replaced by a shopping complex! Nooooo ...
    Don't we have enough malls in that area?

    I feel your pain, man. Rest in peace, Siam. So many fond memories.

  2. damn man!

    and those police are starting to use real bullets too!

  3. It would be really nice to see Siam Theatre rebuilt in retro style, but given the value of the lease it's surely going to be used for another shopping mall. Bangkok has very little culture, so it's sad to see it go up in flames.


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