NPR : News

Filed Under:

What A Show! China's Movie Theaters Have Improved Dramatically

On Morning Edition, NPR's Frank Langfitt reported about a Chinese company's $2.6 billion purchase of North America's second-largest movie theater chain. Now, he tells us how the movie-going experience has changed in China in recent years:

When I first moved to Beijing in 1997, going to the movies wasn't really an option. Many of the theaters were decades-old, the acoustics lousy and ticket prices too high — so high in fact that most Chinese didn't go. To the degree I remember attending movies back then, I recall mostly sitting alone in the dark.

It was depressing.

Making matters worse, China had a strict quota and delay on Hollywood releases to protect its domestic film industry, so you couldn't actually see what you wanted to anyway. It was easier to pick up a bootleg DVD on the street, even if it had been shot on a hand-held, video camera in a theater in Kuala Lumpur. The quality of those DVDs wasn't very good — or so I was told. The audio often included people in the audience munching popcorn. Sometimes, the picture would be obscured by someone getting up to go the bathroom.

My wife, Julie, and I are avid movie-goers, so the only way we saw movies in theaters back then was when we traveled to other countries in Asia. It was so rare, it felt like an event. I remember seeing Gladiator in Seoul. Tomorrow Never Dies in Jakarta, Good Will Hunting on a lay-over in Singapore and Coyote Ugly (don't ask) in Bangkok.

We left China in 2002 and returned last year to Shanghai for my job.

How things have changed.

While I was away, Chinese cinema companies went on a state-of-the-art, building boom. What was once barely an entertainment option is now a lot of fun and really expensive. A couple of weeks ago, we took our kids, Katie, 10, and Christopher, 8, to see The Avengers 3D on the IMAX screen at the renovated Peace Theater downtown. To get to the box office, you had to walk through a Hershey's store, which the kids thought was a great idea.

The theater's concession stand was limited: mostly bottled water and sweet popcorn. But the theater itself was great: stadium seating, assigned seats, three-story screen and English with Chinese sub-titles. During the opening credits, lots of people continued to text on their phones, but once the action began the audience seemed gripped.

The ticket price was a crushing $25 a pop (vs. about $12 for a 3D IMAX movie in Washington, D.C., according to Fandango), but the theater was nearly 90 percent full for a 5:20 show on a Friday evening. The experience was as good as anything you would find in a Western, post-industrial country and probably better than some.

Fifteen years ago, a scene like this in China was absolutely unthinkable.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

The Music And Legacy Of Motown

Motown founder Berry Gordy and director Charles Randolph-Wright of “Motown the Musical" join Diane for a conversation about the history of Detroit's famous sound.

WAMU 88.5

Will Montgomery County Go "Bottoms Up" On Liquor Laws?

Since Prohibition, Montgomery County has held the purse strings on liquor sales, meaning the county sells every drink from beer to bourbon to local bars and restaurants. But local business owners are pushing back from this system, claiming it lacks efficiency and leaves customers waiting. County officials say they are holding out for alternatives that protect those within the industry. We discuss both sides of the issue today.

WAMU 88.5

Exelon's Chief Strategy Officer On Its Proposed Takeover Of Pepco

Kojo chats with Exelon's chief strategy officer about the company's vision for electric service in the Washington region, and its argument for why its acquisition of Pepco is in the best interest of customers.

WAMU 88.5

Computer Guys And Gal

Another year is coming to a close and the Computer Guys And Gal are here to discuss this year's biggest technology news, including the growth of virtual reality and the "Internet of Things."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.