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Valar Qringaomis

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Goodbye to softcore cinema Yangtze

Goodbye to softcore cinema Yangtze

South Korean softcore movie Taste (2013) was the last film to play at Yangtze Cinema, before the 39-year-old theatre closed its doors for good at soon-to-be-demolished Pearls Centre last night.

Mr Mono Chong, the owner, looked upset when The Straits Times caught up with him yesterday, but he is hoping to reopen it in another location.

Choking back tears, the 63-year-old says in Mandarin: "I have been in talks with a partner to see if we can move to another place and reopen. If the talks go through, a new Yangtze may open in three months.

"After managing this place for close to 30 years, I just cannot bear to let it go."

He took over the reins of the cinema from a friend 27 years ago.

Earlier, reports had indicated that the Chinatown cinema might relocate to the East, but he immediately shoots down the rumour.

"That's not possible. It has to be somewhere in the city centre. You cannot play R21 movies in the heartland," he says.

The cinema is closing its doors as the 23-storey Pearls Centre will be demolished so the area can be redeveloped and make way for the Thomson MRT line.

Given how deserted the building has been for the past year, with shopfronts shuttered, it appears that Yangtze was the final tenant to move out.

Mr Chong says he will try to rent storage space to house some of his hundreds of 35mm film reels, but he will have to bid goodbye to some of the bulkier equipment, such as the film platters that feed the film to the projector.

"We have quite a number of antiques here, but I have no choice but to leave them behind. Maybe the museum may want them?"

In recent years, Yangtze has a reputation for playing seedy Asian and European softcore films, which are restricted to viewers 21 years and older.

Dank and musty, the two-hall, 425-seat cinema is mostly frequented by male retirees who while the afternoons away by watching a movie, followed by a cup of kopi from the dimly lit concession stand.

Retiree Tan Yao Chong, 70, is a customer who has been visiting Yangtze almost every day for the last seven years. He does not watch a movie every day, but he finds it "comforting" to sit around in the lobby.

"When I started coming here, I would watch two or three movies a day, but now, I just treat this place as a place to pass the time. I'm not sure where I will go after it closes," he says in Mandarin, adding that he has lost touch with several of his friends over the years as they do not enjoy watching "this kind of movie" with him.

The future is equally uncertain for the cinema's staff of 10, including Mr Tan Chai Chai, who has worked there as an usher for the last 20 years. The 82-year-old, whose job had been to check tickets before patrons head into the halls, says: "I can't say that I'm sad because none of us had any choice in this matter. I'm grateful that the boss let me work this long."

Mr Chong says that should Yangtze reopen, he would gladly re-employ all of its old staff.

A big part of why he is having a hard time letting go of the cinema is that he has fond memories of the 1980s, when Yangtze Cinema was a flourishing movie theatre.

Back then, it screened popular Hong Kong films starring the likes of Andy Lau, instead of its current staple of restricted content.

"It was only during the mid-1990s that I had to re-brand the cinema as an R21 one, due to fierce competition from modern cineplexes opening.

"People weren't interested in coming to Yangtze because they were going to places such as Yishun, where there are 10 screens and fancy interiors. I had no choice, really."

Before the Malaysia-born Australian citizen took over Yangtze, he worked as a film distributor for Shaw Organisation in Kuala Lumpur for a decade.

After he left the company in 1979, he formed his own film distribution business named Mono Films and also started buying and managing cinemas across South-east Asia.

At his peak, he owned 20 cinemas in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. Yangtze is his only Singapore outfit, and also his last one, as he has sold the rest.

Mr Chong, who, until the cinema's closure, had insisted on personally buying film titles, says: "Movies are my passion. For both me and my customers, there have been many wonderful memories created at the cinema here.

"Wherever we move to, the rent will cost more than double what we pay at Pearls Centre, so I have some financial calculations to do. But I don't want Yangtze's legacy to be over. I hope this will not be the end."
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