When you live somewhere a long time, there’s always a few places right under your nose that for some reason, you never explore. For me, Queen’s Theatre, a cinema I walk past nearly EVERY day, was one of those places. Tuesday night I decided to catch the Robert Rodriguez film, “Planet Terror” at Queen’s Theatre and discovered (belatedly) someplace special.
I get annoyed at people who flock to a place just when it’s about to close, after all, it’s usually closing because you’ve previously ignored it. Now I find myself guilty of this exact same crime! Alas, I’m a filthy hypocrite! My friend Ryan recently told me that Queen’s Theatre was slated to close in October, so I decided to pay the place a visit.
Queen’s Theatre couldn’t be any more centrally located. It’s near the Central MTR station, just down the street from Lan Kwai Fong, one of Hong Kong’s main nightlife areas. The Queen’s Theatre of today, in its current downsized form, has survived in one shape or another for over eighty years! The newest incarnation was opened in 1961, the earliest, which stood on the same ground, opened in the early 1920’s.
Though a billboard outside advertises films, the cinema itself has remained partially shrouded, its entrance buried deep inside the building.
Had the ticket counter been at the front of the building, I’m sure it would have peaked my interest much more. In its current form, it appears to be a cinema hidden inside a fading shopping center, when in reality, it’s a make-shift shopping center encased in an enormous fading theater complex. A careful look from the side of the building reveals that the bulk of the structure is indeed a huge theater. The marquee raps around nearly the entire side.
The extremely high foot-traffic area and incredibly desirable location of the theater was completely squandered by treating the cinema as a secondary attraction to the ailing shops inside.
Since I’ve lived in Hong Kong, Queen’s Theatre has been reduced to a fraction of its original size by selling off part of its space to a short-lived disco also named Queen’s. When Queen’s disco closed, a Japanese restaurant chain named Watami took over the vacant high-ceiling space.
My trip to Queen’s Theatre
Queen’s Theatre was the perfect venue to catch the throwback exploitation film “Planet Terror.” Created together with a film called “Death Proof” by Quentin Tarantino, the movie harks back to the days of racy films shown in seedy, dilapidated theaters called grindhouses.
Stepping into Queen’s Theatre is indeed a walk back into time. Despite its decline from a former movie palace with a seating capacity of 1200, to a one-screen cinema with seating for a mere 300, it’s still an impressive theater, and provides a much grander viewing experience than sitting in one of those mini-cinemas we’ve all grown accustomed to.
Purchasing a ticket:
Have a look at the glass case holding the information about what’s playing. It doesn’t say ‘Today’s Show’, it says ‘To-day’. If you’ve been around, you know that’s classic old Hong Kong right there!
In Hong Kong you select your seat, normally by viewing a layout on a monitor horizontally embedded into the ticket counter. At Queen’s you’ll find none of that computerized non-sense! Here you view a special sheet of paper with the date and time stamped on it. It features a map of all the seats, and the ones that are taken have a hand drawn ‘X’ on them. After you choose your seat, the teller hands you a ticket with your seat assignment hand-written in green colored pencil – now that’s old school!
In comparison to some of the old theaters I’ve been to, Queen’s is still in decent shape. When I went on Tuesday night, the price of admission was a mere $30 Hong Kong dollars, (around $4 USD!) Normal admission charge is $60, but Tuesday is reduced-price day in many Hong Kong cinemas. Typical admission fees at the newer shopping mall cinemas are around $70 HKD per ticket.
It’s kind of cool to think that you’re partaking in a tradition that’s been around since the golden age of Hong Kong cinema itself. Think of it this way – you’re sitting in the same theater where there was once a packed house watching a Bruce Lee film!
(That’s sort of what the spirit and the drive is behind the Grindhouse films of Tarantino and Rodriguez. It’s about capturing that feeling of awe, excitement and otherworldliness that cinema can provoke. The filmmakers set out to create films with not just a heavy retro-feel, but films that would press the buttons and give you the sensation that trips to the movie theater used to provide.)
After purchasing your ticket, you enter the complex by a short escalator and then a staircase. Walk up another short flight of stairs and it opens up to a good sized theater.
There are remnants of the cinema’s past glory. The back of certain rows feature an inlaid crown emblem.
The walls of the theater have wood paneling circa the 1950’s.
The theater itself is steep, providing good views from every seat in the house. Muzak gently wafts through the theater as you wait for the heavy curtains to part one more time.
A quick tangent about the Grindhouse series
Although both the films succeed in replicating the grindhouse experience, of the two, the Tarantino movie is clearly my favorite. While I enjoy a zombie flick as much as the next guy, and although the witty dialogue in “Planet Terror” had me laughing in my seat on several occasions, the love and the cognisance that is hidden in Tarantino’s film is just too brilliant to ignore.
One of the aspects of his work that I admire the most is that he is a master at creating multi-dimensional characters where others simply resort to cliches or stereotypes. “Death Proof” is based around strong women characters. Here the girls are portrayed as strong without being reduced to acting bitchy or masculine as most lesser Hollywood directors often resort. While they are sexy, they’re also funny, smart, and can kick ass when they want to. Likewise, Tarantino equally applies the same depth to Black characters, when most Hollywood films offer up only positive or negative stereotypes. In a broader sense, another interesting aspect of the film is that with “Death Proof,” Tarantino is creating the cinematic equivalent of the neo-retro mashup that seems to be sweeping the fashion and music scenes for the past few years. Catch it if you have a chance!