Sunday, July 29, 2012

Art and Indie Movies in Bangkok - Lido, Scala and RCA Theaters

thai movie theaters include imax

Independent movies, art-house films, alternative cinema, foreign-language, non-mainstream, whatever ... such movies are screened regularly at these theaters.

Updated 23 July 2014 The Apex-Lido theaters are the most convenient places to see alternative movies in Bangkok. These two old theaters with a total of four screens are located in movie-mad Siam Square, easily reached from either the Siam Square or Stadium Skytrain stations. There used to be three old theaters; sadly, the Siam Theater went up in flames in the final days of the May 2010 demonstrations.

The Lido theaters are housed in a large building across Rama I Road from the Siam Center. The three theaters here have been carved from what was once a single big theater.

The much grander Scala theater is a five-minute walk west from the Lido--that is, in the direction of the Stadium Skytrain station and MBK shopping center with its SF Cineplex. With a sweeping staircase leading up to a spacious waiting area and a theater that seats 900 people, the Scala lulls the viewer  to a era when seeing a movie was a dress-up occsasion. The Siam Theater used to be located a few minutes in the other direction, next to Digital Gateway, roughly across from the Paragon mall; right now there is an enormous construction site at the old haunt. 

As elsewhere in Asia, an "art-house" or "alternative" movie is very broadly defined in Thailand. The term encompasses just about anything that isn't a Hollywood- or Thai-made blockbuster or rom-com. In fact, when a Batman, Ice Age or Spider-Man arrives in Thailand (generally on a Thursday, and about the same day as it is released in the U.S. or Europe), it will usually open at an Apex-Lido theater as well.

Lido, Scala and Siam Theaters

Yet there are always a few smaller off-beat films screening at this chain, usually in one of the Lido theaters. Each year, the more obscure Oscar-winning movies, such as black comedies or documentaries, play here; they wouldn't attract much of an audience in a Thai cineplex. The "best foreign film" Oscar winner is another regular. Movies made in Korea, mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan and France are also frequently screened each year.

At any given time, the three Lido screens may be featuring seven or eight films in all. How? A movie or two at the end of a run might be shown just once or twice per day, in the early afternoon,

If a movie's original soundtrack is, say, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese or Spanish at the Lido or Scala movie theaters, subtitles are usually in both Thai and English. A Thai art film will normally have English subtitles as well. But check the posters at the theater, an English-language daily newspaper or phone the theater. The Apex-Lido website, which isn't easy to locate, doesn't specify subtitles. But it it does list the screen times.  Yes, if you call the Lido or Scala number, you can ask a question in English but keep it simple.

Lido Theaters phone number: 02-252-6498
Lido Theaters address:  991 Rama 1 Road (across from Siam Center)

Scala phone number:  02-251-2861

Scala Theater address: Siam Square Soi 1 (close to Rama 1 Road). 

House RCA Cinemas

Movie about Koreans and Japanese in WW2

Korean WW2 drama

House RCA calls itself a "boutique cinema" and doesn't show blockbusters at all. The above description of an art movie fits here as well, although House RCA probably shows foreign films in a wider array of languages than Lido-Apex does. It is also a little more adventurous in its selections. It has recently shown Cantonese-language "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" from Hong Kong, "Le Week-End" from England, "The Lunchbox" from India, and "Red Dog" from Australia. 

Not counting a Tony Jaa martial arts outing, the films of the Thai art or indie directors most familiar to foreign viewers might also appear at House RCA or at the Lido theaters. Apichatpong Weeasethakul, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Wist Sasanatieng are the best known of these directors.

The House RCA website comes, goes and is sometimes hijacked. 

Scroll down to "showtimes". There are usually three or four movies playing at one time. Most of this site is in Thai, but the names of films, screening times and the language of subtitles are clear to readers of English. Click the individual movie poster image; on my computer, Google automatically translated the movie descriptions into a variation of English. Usually, movies with original soundtracks other than English will have English subtitles. Sometimes they will have both Thai and English subtitles. English-language movies have Thai subtitles.

If you can't see website, try the The Facebook page for House RCA:   There's a lot of Thai there and you can't see what's coming up in the future but daily screentimes and film names in English (or Roman letters) are clear enough. If you ask on the page whether "Cosmopolis" or "Under the Skin" is playing at the same time on a future date, often you will get a reply.

I used to say that was the best option. The bi-lingual site has now been dormant for about a year. You used to be able to look up any movie showing in Bangkok or in the cineplexes throughout the country by time, movie title,venue and so on. I keep thinking Movieseer will revive because, for Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and many cities throughout the world, the movie-finding sites--sometimes under the Google name--are, or were, powered by Movieseer software and updated by staff here in Thailand. It seems increasingly unlikely, though.

Rama-House Movie Location

Thai-language art movie poster

"Tears of the Black Tiger"

West of Asoke Road, RCA (for "Royal City Avenue") is a wide stretch of road between New Phetchburi Road and Rama IX Road. It is best known for its music and dance clubs frequented by affluent young Thais. House RCA is close to the New Phetchburi end, on the third floor of a shopping mall with a UMG and Tops supermarket on the ground floor.  

You can walk in from New Petchburi, crossing Kamphaeng Phet 7, a skinny road running parallel to it.  Although the floor with the two screening rooms is a bit eerie, there is a little cafe with comfy couches  to wait out before or after. The nearest subway station is Phetchburi, but you will need to take a bus or taxi from there.

House RCA phone number: 02-641-5177   
House RCA address:  3F, 31/8 Royal City Avenue Petchburi Tad Mai Road

As at the Apex-Lido theaters, regular House RCA viewers should pick up a promotional card at the box office and have it stamped when buying a ticket. At both Apex-Lido and House RCA, a single ticket costs 100 baht (currently about US$3), which is at least 40 baht (currently more than $1) cheaper than at the city's many cineplexes. 

Get the card stamped on each visit; ten tickets will score a free entry on the 11th visit. If you're planning a longish stay in Bangkok, become a full member of RCA and you can borrow interesting DVDs at no extra charge. The selection is small but the films come from all over the world and bear Thai subtitles. A membership card is very cheap--less than 20 baht, as best I recall.

Friese-Greene - Private Movie Club

Friese-Greene is a private club off Sukhumvit Road with a nine-seat screening room with HD projection. Membership is currently only 200 baht. After that, the movies are free, although you should reserve ahead of time. There's also a bar serving drinks and simple food, and a library with reference books and English film and industry magazines. The magazines are no small dividend; a single issue of American Cinematographer might cost $10 in Thailand.

Clicking "This month's schedule" on the website will give you a gif of the entire month's screenings. Or try the Friese-Greene Facebook page. Movies are screened four nights a week (Monday and Thursday-Sunday). Many of these "cult and classic" movies seem intended to fill in the gaps in a basic film education:  Kubrick, Coppola, Brian de Palma, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone. Or there's something you have seen before, perhaps many times, like "Badlands", but never on a big screen as God and Malick intended. 

There are also series on themes--like movies set in boarding schools or movies starring Philip Seymour Hoffman or Audrey Hepburn. The selection tends to be heavy on the English-language soundtracks but there's the occasional classic Italian or contemporary Chinese director represented. 

The location isn't as central as the Lido but not as challenging as that of House RCA. Sukhumvit Soi 22 is about midway between Phrom Phong Skytrain station and the Asoke intersection,with both Skytrain and a subway (MRT) stations. It branches south from Sukhumvit Road. Unfortunately, the club is located deep in the soi and the beginnings of Soi 22 are rather creepy (i.e., sex tourist land) in the evenings. 

Give yourself at least 20 minutes to walk from Asoke or Phrom Phong station. Fortunately, there are motorcycle taxi drivers near the mouth of Soi 22 and back along Sukhumvit Road in front of Benjasiri Park. All the motorcycle taxi drivers know the (Imperial) Queen's Park Hotel,  though it's probably less than a 10-minute walk from the mouth of the Soi 22 to the club. Walk past the hotel and take the very first left onto a small soi. A few hundred meters down you will see the halal Usman Restaurant on the right. The club is next to it, in a skinny townhouse with a discreet brass plaque bearing the club name.

Friese-Greene address: 259/6 Sukhumvit Soi 22, on a sub-soi after Queen's Park Hotel
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 6 pm-10 pm
Nearest Skytrain station: Phrom Phong
Phone (English): 087 000 0795
Phone (Thai): 080 733 8438

World Film Festival of Bangkok

If you're a devout movie lover and lucky enough to be in Thailand in October 17-16, 2014, make sure to check out the annual World Film Festival of Bangkok, which won't take place at any of the theaters described here.

SF and Major Cineplexes 

If a film--say, that foreign-language Oscar winner or a Japanese anime--is playing at both a cineplex and one of the indie cinemas, the cineplex may well be the superior choice: with state-of-the-art screens and sound systems and cushy seats, Bangkok probably has more first-rate screening rooms than most cities in developed countries. Tickets can be pricey, however. Ordinary seats may be around 200 baht and prime seats over 300 baht. Prices can also  vary depending on the day and time. Daytime Monday through Thursday might be cheaper, especially beyond the city center. If you're quoted over 300 baht in central Bangkok, you've wandered into IMAX or sofa or the small digital theater territory . IMAX in in Major's Paragon cineplex. Often, there is a cheaper screening at another time in one of the regular theaters.

Most movie theaters in Bangkok are owned by Major Cineplex. Major also runs cineplexes in Samui, Pattaya and Hat Yai. In Bangkok, Major includes the Siam Square's Paragon cineplex and the EGB theaters. Second runner-up is SF Cinema City's theaters. SF can boast the glossiest theaters in town; they are in the new Terminal 21 mall at the Asoke intersection and in the CentralWorld shopping mall, right next to Paragon. SF also has a cineplex atop MBK mall, but that's a noisy, old and confusing mall to navigate. 

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

Here are the 25 airlines that fly to Myanmar (Burma) and their air routes. These airlines fly directly on  regularly scheduled flig...