It’s been an interesting experience to go to the movies in Asia. I’ve tried to go see the big US releases when I can and when they are available. From my perspective, in the big cities the art of exhibition exceeds the standards of the US. There are many upscale theaters (tickets are still super cheap compared to the West) with premium seats, reserved seats, complimentary pre-film massage, cocktails, etc. The idiosyncrasies in each country catch my attention, however. For instance:
In Thailand, you settle into your seat and become absorbed in the coming attractions like anywhere in the world. Except… just before the feature, the anthem to the King swells on the audio and a patriotic video appears. Everyone is obliged to stand in respect silently to the King. One minute later, theatrics resume and everyone settles in for the main feature.
In India, there are a few eccentricities. 1) Before each preview, commercial or feature, the approval form from the state appears on the screen briefly at the beginning of the piece – a slice of bureaucracy over and over again that reinforces the Indian stereotype of excessive paperwork. 2) Smoking warnings – during the film, anytime an actor or extra lights up a cigarette, there appears on the lower right corner of the screen the message “Smoking Kills”. This stays on the screen as long as any smoking in the scene continues. Yay!!! 3) There is an intermission exactly 1/2 way through every film, no matter what. I guess this is state-mandated. The breaks are sometimes awkward and abrupt, obviously not contemplated by the filmmakers.
In Malaysia, a Muslim country, the film’s subtitles are neutered. I listen to the English soundtrack, watch the Malay subtitles and observe that cursing is removed. At times it is really apparent that the intent of the filmmaker is perverted by the censor’s translation. However, the meaning is only lost to those who cannot understand English and are relying on the subtitles.
I have not had the pleasure of watching a film in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a film in Viet Nam even though I have spent almost 1/2 of the time of my journey here. I guess there is a 2nd chapter on going to the movies to report when I do see a film in any of these countries. Until then, this is your humble corespondent signing off… Cheers!