Me and Chairman Mao
  The matinee.
On Sunday, after more than one year of living in China, which somehow feels both longer and shorter than that, Holly and I did something we had never done before here: we went to the movies. Well, just a movie actually--no sense going crazy and seeing two or three before we'd even seen one, just in case it was a less than premium experience. Of course, I wasn't worried about that, since it's not like China is the kind of place where it seems to be acceptable to scream into your cell phone regardless of where you happen to be or whatever is going on around you, or at least to set it to a really obnoxious ring so everyone will be annoyed when you get a call. Oh, wait, it is that kind of place. Never mind.

Either way, what newly released US movie could finally get us into a Chinese theater, when we can buy almost any movie in our local DVD shop for less than a dollar? Some of you can probably guess, and some of you have already cheated by looking at the picture below. But for those of you who have done neither--none of you, I'm guessing--it was, of course, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as you can see from the picture below (which doesn't actually prove anything other than that I have a camera and saw this poster, but you'll have to trust me):

I was a bit surprised that it came out here on basically the same day it did in the US--and dubbed in Chinese even, although we saw the subtitled version--but I'm guessing they did it to get a one or even two day head start on the pirates. It was also strange since, for the most part, the Western movies that are released here show up pretty late. For example, they just started playing Zorro, and some movie called Churchill: The Hollywood Years, for which they de-mothballed both Christian Slater and Neve Campbell and which was apparently never actually released in the US, is coming soon to Shanghai. Probably we'll be skipping that one.

(Side note: as you might guess from the above paragraph, the government doesn't generally approve the cream of the movie crop for release here. So while we can't see Walk the Line, we could see Stealth. I know you're jealous.)

Anyway, we went by the theater Saturday afternoon to see when it was playing, only to find out that it was essentially always playing. I think this place has 11 screens, and they were all playing Harry Potter:

(The top box is for the dubbed version, the middle one is for the subtitled version, and the bottom box is for the "VIP" theater, which includes free pop and popcorn, and apparently also has extra fancy seats--possibly even love seats for two, if the sign they show is to be believed. )

We went to the theater at about two in the afternoon, and were surprised to find not only that tickets were very expensive--over $8.50--but also almost completely gone: the first show we could get into was at 8 PM, and even then we could only get crappy seats. And how, you ask, did I know we could only get crappy seats? Because apparently in China you get assigned seats in the movie theater: your row and seat number are on your ticket, which sounds fine and all in theory, but in practice it turns out that waiting in line for movie tickets when everyone before you not only has to buy a ticket but also figure out where they want to seat is a pretty long process. Nothing like watching the group of six right in front of you try to figure out the next show where they could all sit together. Really speeds the line right along. Seriously, it was great fun.

Anyway, we ended up with tickets for the next morning at 11 AM (Aisle 4, Seats 4 & 5), showed up about 20 minutes early, and quickly found something else interesting about Chinese movie theaters (or at least the theater we were at): popcorn is pre-bagged. Yes, rather than keeping it warm in the popcorn machine, they put it in bags and then wrap a plastic bag around the first bag, presumably to keep the popcorn clean and/or fresh. On the plus side, you get your popcorn fast; on the negative side, it's cold, although they make up for the latter by apparently mixing sugar with the butter to make the cold popcorn taste better.

Once they let us into the theater--just ten minutes before the movie was supposed to start, so apparently they have a quick turnaround--things were pretty standard. It was a bit small, and the bass actually shook the floor, which I think was more a mark of poor floor construction than massive, earth-shaking speakers, but otherwise it was pretty standard. Surprisingly enough, I didn't hear one cell phone the entire time, although there did seem to be a lot of text messaging going on. And it was actually much quieter than I expected: after a lot of early talking--you don't have to worry about what's being said when you're reading it on the bottom of the screen--things really quieted down as things went on. In fact, I think the only time there was a lot of talking (this will only make sense if you've seen the movie) was when Harry was standing next to a tombstone marked RIDDLE and it wasn't subtitled, so I could hear a bunch of people whispering what sounded like "Riddle." But, you know, in Chinese.

And as for the movie itself? We liked it. In fact, we liked it enough that we just might go back and see it again. Well, at least we will if they're showing the English-language version in the VIP theater. Because, you know, we're totally VIP. VIPs. Whatever ...
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