Archive for October 23rd, 2010

October 23, 2010

Sabaidee Savannaket, and Pakse: After 1975 more than 30 years, do you find anything got better?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Another one yet from Savannaket — The Nang Lit Theaeter — Savannaket, Laos

A half a block from the Lao Chaleun Cinema and on the opposite side of the street stands the Nang Lit Theater. Just off Savannaket’s town square, the Nang Lit still occasionally screens movies, as it did for the recently released and ever rare Laotian film, Sabaidee Luang Phrabang

A middle aged woman running a small minimart across the street gave me the general stats on the old theater: the original owner, in an act of paternal adoration, named the theater after his daughter, Lit. He was of Lao-Chinese descent and left the country for gay Paris after the defeat of the royalist regime. He, as well as his daughter Lit, have since passed away.

Apparently the place operated normally until 1991. Since then it’s been turned into a cultural center, occasionally opening its doors for a movie screening.

I wasn’t able to find out when it was built, but the minimart owner says it’s been there as long as she’s been on the planet. I’m guessing it was built in the 1950’s or early 60’s. It’s definitely architecturally out of character for most of Savannaket, which is more French colonial.

Among the things listed on the poster paper in the lobby: no weapons, sharp item or things that can make people sick are permitted in the theater.
Ticket prices are 3,000 Kip for Lao and 10,000 for foreigners

(On a side note, Savannaket used to have another 2 theaters, The Savan Rama and one which nobody could recall the name of).

Posted by The Projectionist at 6:58 PM

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Lao Chaleun Cinema – Savannaket, Laos


Lao Chaleun translates to Prospering Laos

A tourist brochure for Savannaket city dated the Lao Chaleun Cinema to the 1930’s. Since most of it is concrete, I find that hard to believe, but I know very little about architecture or what building materials were used when. Nonetheless, this was was the most edifying abandoned theater I’ve found to date.

I was told that it was built with the intention of being the anchor for the entire two rows of commercial and residential buildings that it’s attached to, an interesting concept in itself. An entire neighborhood built around a cinema!

It is divided into two separate sections. The facade and facilities attached to it face onto Kaisone Phomivan Road, while the main auditorium is in another building in a back alley. A long corridor leads from the front entrance to the auditorium in the rear, while the two sections are connected by a patio bridge. I wish I knew more about that front section. What was it used for? It looks like there was commercial space there. Maybe the theater’s offices, or concessions?

Entrance to the auditorium.

Patio bridge straddles an alley, connecting the facade section and auditorium.
Second floor looking across the patio bridge towards the front building.
Presumably the ticket window

View from the balcony
View of balcony, projector’s window on the back wall.

Projectionist’s room

That’s right, despite the fact the Lao Chaleun has been closed for over 30 years there are still old reels of film lying around.

The temptation to take one of these old reels was there, but just as I was about to do it I recalled the curse of King Tut’s tomb.

I’ve been told this might be the Thai actor of yesteryear Sombat Chareun in the frame. Hard to tell.
Does anybody know what this says?
Hammer and Sickle stencil on wall of the projectionist’s room.

This really is a classic structure. Unfortunately, a restoration job seems unlikely anytime in the near future, and in it’s present condition I can’t see it holding up too much longer. The least we can hope for is that somebody or some entity has the foresight to preserve the facade. After all, it is advertised on the Savannaket guide brochure as a site of historic significance in the city. You’d think somebody would step up and save the Lao Chaleun.

Posted by The Projectionist at 8:56 PM

The Pakse Hotel AKA The Pakse Theater – Pakse, Laos

I was initially hesitant to post anything about the Pakse Theater because it’s been completely converted into a hotel and lacks evidence of its former cinematic glory days, but I’ve since had a change of heart. These old cinemas, you see, regardless of their current use, are testament to bygone eras. They are good starting points for queries about the larger forces that shape societies, like economics, technological innovation and the social mores of the day. What’s more, within these buildings opinions were shaped, emotions stoked and daily routines given alternate perspectives — not to mention all the things that people do when the lights go down. Movie theaters reside in the memories of the spectators who visited them, which is why they themselves should be a sustained part of the collective memory. Also, I just dig some of the buildings.
The Pakse Theater was apparently the first large-scale, modern building in the city of Pakse, built by the last king of southern Laos. It wasn’t originally a theater, but in 1962 was converted into one. It also contained a casino. I’m not sure how long its movie-showing days lasted, but in 2003 it was completely renovated and turned into it’s current incarnation as the Pakse Hotel

Posted by The Projectionist at 10:56 AM 0 comments

Saturday, March 21, 2009


“Take the money and run” – The Rock Port North Theater: Pakse, Laos

The upper part of the Rock Port North Theater’s exterior is made of corrugated tin

The west side of Pakse had its own theater. Almost equally as unassuming as the Ta Luang, the Hong Hoop Ngao Ta Hin Neua, or in English, the Rock Port North Theater, was smack in the middle of a commercial shopping street in an otherwise residential neighborhood. This area is memorable for me because of its old wooden houses which look like they’re gonna give out any day. The theater has been abandoned for more than 30 years, though the food vendors that have opened shop beneath the front overhang use it to store bottled beverages. There are also building supplies stored in the now seat-less auditorium. A rehab job, perhaps?


Front door
Noodle vendor catches a nap beneath an old poster case
Boarded up ticket window

I asked one of the vendors if he would let me inside, which he obliged graciously, going so far as to give me a personal guided tour. “The owner,” he said, “took the money and ran to Thailand soon after the communist Pathet Lao took control of the country. His daughter has since married an American and moved to the States.”

Apparently the owner, still based in Thailand, has few prospects for the building, so he rents it to the vendors.

View from balcony

NOTICE: Children under 15 not permitted.
Posted by The Projectionist at 8:16 PM 0 comments

The Royal Port Theater — Pakse, Laos

Lots of old timers in Laos call movie theaters “hong hoop ngao,” roughly translated to “shadow picture houses.” I guess that means that movies are known as “shadow pictures.” Anyway, I spent a few days in the little city of Pakse, Champasak province, in southern Laos. The locals led me to three old theaters, one of them being the Hong Hoop Ngao Ta Luang, or Royal Port Theater.I didn’t get much info on this one, only that the owner still lives in town – a fact which contrasts to the other theaters I’ve come across in Laos, whose owners all bolted from the country as soon as the communists took power in 1975. It closed down in the mid-80’s 

This geezer’s all wood. I bet it’s one of the oldest theaters in SEA.

As I crept around the perimeter, trying to find a crack to get a peak inside, some kids rode by on bikes. One of them said to me “Yo dude, don’t you know that joints haunted?” To which I replied, “I ain’t scared of no ghost.”

For those of you who think I’m trying to pass an old barn off as an old theater, check out the screen; barely visible through the crack in the door.

Posted by The Projectionist at 1:46 AM 0 comments
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