Monday, October 27, 2008

Balestier-Thomson Road Heritage Trail (2) - Cinemas

Recently many cinemas in Singapore were showing this very famous movie called Painted Skin (画皮). Today, I saw an advertisement in the papers which claimed that it was the number 1 movie in Asia. I am afraid I have not seen this movie. Nowadays, I don’t have the stomach for horror movies.

Wait a minute. Actually, that is not true. In fact, I have already seen this movie ages ago; 43 years ago to be precise, and I saw it at a cinema in Balestier Road called Hoover Theatre (豪华).

In those days, there were two famous theatres in Balestier Road. Besides Hoover, there was the Ruby Theatre (宝石) just a few hundred metres away. As I mentioned in one of my earliest posts on this blog, in those days, I often came to Hoover with my elder brother David after school. We were both studying in the morning session at nearby ACS in Barker Road. Some years later, another theatre called President was built just beside Hoover. Today, like many other old cinemas in Singapore, all three cinemas have gone the way of the dinosaur.


(From 1963 street directory)


What kinds of movies did we see at Hoover in those days? I remember we saw a lot of Shaw Brothers sword-fighting (wuxia) movies. At that time, the most famous actors were Wang Yu, Yue Hua and Chang Yi who usually played the hero’s roles, whilst the villains were usually played by Lo Lieh and Chen Hung Lieh. I probably missed a few other names.

Surprising, whenever I think of Hoover, the other movie, besides Painted Skin, that comes to my mind is a relatively unknown one, which starred Chen Hung Lieh in a rare leading role playing the good guy. I don’t even remember the title of the show but I remember Chen used a very special fighting technique called Hu luo pin yang (虎落平阳). He would descend from the roof tops and attack his opponents with two daggers tied to this ankles. Quite unique actually.

Below are two advertisements typically found in the Chinese newspapers (these two are scanned from the book, 40 years of Sin Min Daily). In the one on top, you can see Ruby mentioned in the bottom right corner, and in the next picture you can see Hoover.



This photo shows a shopping complex (I think it is called Balestier Point) which stands on what used to be the Ruby Theatre which had a open car park in the front.


Coming back to Painted Skin, if you want to watch a noisy, scratchy version of the original, you can go to this website. It was produced by Great Wall (长城) and starred two very famous actors of that era; 朱虹 and 高远.

For non-Chinese readers, you may be interested to know that Painted Skin is one of over 400 stories in a famous Chinese literary classic called The Strange Tales of Liao Zhai (聊斋志异). These stories have been adapted into countless movies and tv dramas.
Liao Zhai is ranked among classics like Journey to the West, which I think even our British friends might be familiar with, (heard of ‘Monkey God’?), Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms etc. as the best known literary works of China.

Coincidentally, a few years ago, I saw a Hong Kong tv series on Channel 8 featuring Liao Zhai. In one of the stories, I recognized the much older Chen Hung Lieh playing the role of a father.


Read more about the book The Strange Tales of Liao Zhai here.

22 comments:

sgporc said...

president and hoover theatres are not completely gone... only reincarnated as modern cineplexes in the current shaw plaza. Yes it is totally different, but at least the whole place is still owned by the same owners after all these years. Also I believe the shaw movie studios where movies were filmed are still around and locked up someplace in the area behind the current plaza...

Zen said...

Before male actors playing leading roles in wuxia films, actresses ruled the silver screen (in early sixties). Then came an unknown shaws script writer by the name of chang chieh (taiwanese) decided to try a hand as a film director. His ideas were very revolutionary at that time, using newly recruited actors namely wang yu, lo lieh, chen hung lieh, yue hua and few others to test the water. I could remember seeing his first film (b&w)named tiger boys at Rex cinema. He was then not allowed a big budget by shaw top boss (known for being stingy) probably due to the film being produced for trial purpose. However this film, due to its new style of fighting, fully exploiting the 'yang'factor, with good story line, really capture the imagination of the audience thus causing a huge impact in the film world. The period of Shaws domination of wuxia film had just begun and chang became the unofficial boss of the shaws studio feared by all, calling the shot as far as wuxia films were concerned. This could be attributed to his action films able to break box office record, one after another.

Lam Chun See said...

My good friend just pointed out to me that I used the wrong word in that Chinese idiom.

It should be 虎落平阳 not 虎落平洋. The full idiom goes 虎落平陽被犬欺. which literally says that, when the tiger comes from the mountain to the plains, it is bullied by the dogs. The meaning is that when a person loses his position and influence, he is often subject to much indignity.

fuzzoo said...

I used to go to Hoover with my family in the '70s. If I'm not wrong, the cinema "specialised" in re-runs, charging $1 for them.

Zen said...

chun see - In fact not only chen hung lieh, many veteran actors and actresses can be seen in present TV serials. These are what we call evergreen stars, the down-to-earth type. They know that their hey-days are over and are willing to play second fiddles to the present generation of new TV stars, knowing very well that hk movie industry is going downhill, and therefore having lesser opportunities if they stay to film acting. A good example is Wu Fung, an evergreen actor, who could adapt to changes in the film or TV industry like chameleon. He can act practically any role scripted to him whether in comedy, tragedy, musical - in ancient or modern setting, except not so realistic in evil-person roles because he possesses a benign face. He could even act in cantonese opera. We ourselves are also some kind of actors or actresses in real life like what shakespeare likened to, playing leading roles when we are young and supporting ones when we are in old age - any choice?.

Aiyah Nonya said...

Hey I remember there use to be an Emporium next to the Hoover cinema.

Zen said...

Among the chinese classics, I am surprised to learn that the Japanese like the three kingdoms best, calling it san koku. One Japanese author even quotes a famous poem written by zao zao's youngest son (zao zhi chien) describing his profound sadness when he learnt that his eldest brother was planning to kill him before usurping the throne.

yg said...

towner road shown on your 1963 map is now known as whampoa drive. before the central expressway was built and before towner road was truncated, you could travel from balestier road via the former towner road all the way to serangoon road.
there was a bakery along the former towner road (now whampoa drive) which made the traditional loaf with the dark brown top. i think there was a post office at one end of the row of houses. dr lee suan yew, the mm's brother, used to operate a clinic, that was among the row of houses. i remember going to see him to get myself medically and physically certified fit to attend the 21-day outward bound course.

Lam Chun See said...

YG. You have jumped the gun becos my next post will be about Towner Road. Anyway, your explanation about Whampoa Drive replacing Towner Road becos of CTE may not be correct. We will discuss this later.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Mr.Lam,
I still remember Hoover Theatre till now.During my continuation of my studies in Singapore Vocational Institute now known as ITE Balestier, I used to catch movies at the former Hoover Theatre. In all I had watched 3 movies there. The 3 movies were Rocky 3, The Dawn of Mummy and The Roller Blade.Hoover cinema was however being torn down somewhere in 1995, which now stands a new shopping centre. Like the capitol cinema building which still stands next to Stamford Road, the building will also be tear down for redevelopment!! Sighhh.....there goes our memories....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I don't go to the Nee Soon/Bah Soon Pah area,and I am just curious whatever happened to the Hill 265 area that army recruits would go to for topo sessions. The Nee Soon area (or Yishun) has changed so much that I can't keep up.

Thanks

RH

Oliver said...

Hi! I heard that some of the old cinemas in Singapore were used as voting stations during the elections in the past. Is this true? Can anyone please share with us more about the plight of these old cinemas when they had become less popular? For example, I heard that they became very empty during screenings, people started talking about how haunted they were. And they started screening just Malay and Tamil movies. I am interested to know the plight of these cinemas before they were demolished.

Victor said...

Oliver, I don't know about old cinemas being used as voting stations in the past. Most polling stations were in community centres then (now they are called community clubs).

Polling stations for the last several elections were generally in the void decks (multi-purpose empty space below most HDB flats).

With the many HDB void decks available, I believe there is no need to make use of old cinemas for voting stations. Most old/disused cinemas in Singapore have now been bought over and used by churches. Some are converted to supermarkets.

Oliver said...

Thanks Victor! Can anyone please talk more about the plight of these old cinemas before they were demolished? What had changed since their glamorous days? What were the movie-going crowds like when new cinemas started dominating the scene? What kind of movies were shown there then? What happened to the people working there? The ticketing counter staff? Ushers? Security guards?

Victor said...

Oliver, you can read my post here where I mentioned about an usher in Cathay cinema in the 1960s. He was also my neighbour and drove me to school.

You may also want to read this post titled Before the Multiplex.

Anonymous said...

Is Ruby Theatre and Ruby Plaza related in anyway? I've just bought a new home in the former site of ruby plaza, which will be tore down soon, and interested to know more about the history of this area.

Edward said...

Another notable actress of the 60s was Cheng Pei Pei. I remember the movie she acted in, “Come Drink With Me”. She was a very good swordswoman and resuscitated her career a few years ago in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Cheng Pei Pei was also my mother’s favourite.

Balestier Road reminded me of two things:
(1) there was a hawker who sold “mee loh choe” in the late 50s to early 60s. This dish was bee hoon and hokkien mee fried with prawns, squid, etc. You also get half a lemon in each packet. The packet was made of dried leaf and tied with a straw. Very delicious.
(2) at the Thomson Road end there used to be a “sarabak” stall there. A few of us would spend our evenings there drinking “thae-oh” (tea with no milk) which costs 5 cents per glass. At the end of the night we’d catch our bus home from the bus stop on Thomson Road opposite the Police Academy.

Lam Chun See said...

Recently, I saw a documentary tracing the history of Hong Kong's wuxia industry. Very informative and interesting. I recorded the show on my dvd recorder's hard disk.

Anonymous said...

Anyone has pictures of old Hoover and President cinemas ? I like to know what they looked like.

Victor said...

Anonymous, there's a photo of old Hoover Theatre here.

Choon Hua said...

Some of these information reminds me of the past when I lived in Jalan Ampas for 20 years (behind Hoover Cinema)

ACMY said...

Chanced upon this blog.... Ruby, Hoover, President, Emporium... What fond memories I have!!! Never knew so much had changed, even though I have been living around this area for donkey years! And I am still living in Whampoa Drive. The 1963 map indicated Towner Road which is Whampoa Drive might not be correct?