Bangkok cinemas succumb to violent protests

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Well, you heard me talk about Thailand's civil unrest last month. I will not rehash that, but one of the biggest stories was not the loss of life or property damage, but destruction of two of Bangkok's best-known cinemas, which were burned to the ground.

The SF Cinema's flagship multiplex in the Central World shopping center was destroyed after "red-shirt" protesters set the shopping center on fire. Film Business Asia reported that deputy managing director Suvannee Chinchiewchan said that the 15-screen Central World site accounted for 15% of SF's gross revenues.

A more highly reported victim was the 44-year-old Siam Theater—one of Thailand's last and oldest standalone theatres. Now part of the Apex Group, the 800-seat cinema opened on Dec. 15, 1966, with the film Battle of the Bulge starring Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw. It was the first place in Thailand to install an escalator.

Originally called Chula, the name was changed to Siam following strong opposition from critics who felt it inappropriate to give a cinema the same name as a monarch.

While Bangkok burned, Sahamongkol Film reported a drop-off of about 5% in box office for their release of Ong Bak 3 because of the closure of all cinemas in the area.

Taiwan Cracks Down on Smoking

If you smoke, don't move to Taiwan—you wouldn't be able to go to the movies.

The Taiwanese Department of Health wants to make tobacco use one of the criteria for deciding what age rating to give a film. "Smoking [in movies] has a much worse impact on health than sex and violence," said a notice on the Department’s website.

Taiwan, which has a population of around five million smokers out of a total population of 23 million, has tightened anti-smoking rules in recent years. The island banned smoking in all indoor public places in early 2009. It has also outlawed all cigarette advertisements and imposed a "health tax" on cigarettes, a move the Department of Health credits with helping to cut smoking by 10 percent. Lung cancer is a major source of death in Taiwan.

China Enjoys Robust Box Office
Research company EntGroup reported that 2009 was a booming year for the Chinese film industry, continuing the two-digit growth rate started in 2003 and raising the box-office take around 43% from 2008.

The main reason behind the rapid growth is the increase in cinemas and screens. In many major Chinese cities, cinemagoing has become a new lifestyle of the country’s burgeoning middle class. As a result, the moviegoing population has also largely increased.

Besides the growth in the exhibition sector, the industry has seen major increases in production, distribution and film financing. Overall, EntGroup forecasts box office to hit US$1.5 billion by the end of 2010 and $2.9 billion by 2012.

The highest-grossing movie in China remains Titanic in 1998 at $53 million.

Phuket Festival Welcomes Darnell Martin

The Phuket Film Festival has been a pet project of this writer for the last several years. Last realized in 2007, the festival this year is solely organized by our company, AMW International Co. Ltd.

Our headliner is Darnell Martin, award-winning director of numerous U.S. TV shows and the feature Cadillac Records. Joining Martin will be Italian director Ilaria Pananelli (Per Sofia), Indian director Paresh Mokashi (Harishchandrachi Factory) and several others including Thai and international talent.

For Thailand at this time, the Phuket Film Festival is needed to “bring back the smiles” after the worst civil unrest this country has ever seen. The Thai psyche has been damaged and a grand activity which focuses worldwide attention on Thailand, in particular Phuket, can go a long way in healing wounds.

Enhancing the importance of the festival (and bringing with it a slew of new headaches) is notice that Thailand's Minister of Culture and several other politicos from the government will attend the Gala Opening. Suddenly, expenditure triples on an area of the festival that did not see much attention paid to it before.
If you’d like a program guide from the festival, send your name and address to the e-mail contact address on this page.

Contact Scott Rosenberg with relevant news items at prdivision@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at scott_cos.