Malaysian cinema

The Malaysian Theatrical Experience Is Back: Are We Excited? Should We Be?

After what seemed like a decade of waiting, let dem floodgates open!!!

The year is 2020. Earth has gone through months of utter absurdity. Murder hornets in the US of A. Australian bushfires. The tragic passing of basketball legend, Kobe Bryant. Social and political unrest. And to top it all off, there’s that darned COVID-19 pandemic as the big bad, uprooting all sorts of economies and lives. We’ve only just passed the 50% mark of this 8784-hour episode of Black Mirror. So, if you’ve survived this far, hooooo-ray?

Our nation has witnessed similarly challenging circumstances in the past months due to the Coronavirus. People were urged to work from home and social distancing became the new norm.

You wanna buy some essentials at the supermarket? Line. Beep. Scan. Enter.

You wanna go the bank to withdraw money from the ATM? Line. Beep. Scan. Enter.

You wanna grab food? Well… uhm… (shrugs*) Grab Food.

Many businesses which were not deemed essential were barred from operating along with those that required people to come into close contact with one another or to gather in large groups. We’re talking hairdressers, massage parlours, schools, etc. But of course, there’s one place that has been sorely missed.

And that is the cinema.

Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve walked down those long halls, popcorn in hand, stealing quick glances at the posters of upcoming releases before entering into the shadowy unknown. The darkness hits, and hard squints at the ground are made so as to not miss a step, only relying on the blue illuminated alphabets as a source of light (because I’m too lazy to whip out my phone). Yes, it always felt magical, like I was entering another realm. I felt like Thanos using the Space Stone, teleporting through the cosmos, and subsequently stepping out of a void to Vormir or Titan or Wakanda.

To me, the cinema was a haunt. I had something to look forward to every weekend. It would be planned, or depending on my after-hours schedule on weekdays, it would be spontaneous. I usually go alone to the cinema (*don’t judge) so I do not have to experience the hassle of choosing seats that were next to one another. Regardless, it was my favourite spot to just sit down, unwind, concentrate, and enjoy the atmosphere along with whatever was unfolding on screen.

I managed to catch two films before the Movement Control Order was implemented. The first was PIXAR’s animated D&D campaign, Onward, which I watched on its opening night. The second was a closeted “Malaysian” movie in the form of Vin Diesel’s Valiant Comics adaptation, Bloodshot (if you’ve seen the feature, you’ll know what I mean) which I watched at Gurney Paragon the very next day. So, of course, when the barriers and controls were set in motion, it was heartbreaking. Yet, it was a necessary step in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve. I mean, we would not want a cine-cluster, you know.

“The theatrical experience can’t be replaced”.

As cliche as this statement is, it is VERY true. There just isn’t anything quite like watching a movie, be it good or bad, on a big screen. Having a streaming service like Netflix, iflix, or Viu might be a convenient way to watch a film. Nevertheless, it will never replace the same rush you get in the movie theatre. Watching Blade Runner 2049 on your phone isn’t the same as looking at absorbing every detail Ryan Gosling brushes through the dust. Watching Captain America pick up Mjolnir at home just isn’t the same as the whooping chill you get witnessing it in a cinema.

Indeed, the absence of the theatrical experience, while initially bearable, became a gradually widening void. The motivation for the weekend had been lost, and while the small screen still offered entertainment, the sense that you were going on an excursion was sorely lacking. No smells of popcorn. No big screen movie release dates to look forward to. None. It’s even worse when you think about it due to the fact that this period is the summer season, a time when the most bombastic and heart-pumping blockbusters are given the cinematic treatment.

Speaking of popcorn, I even bought popcorn kernels and poppity-popped my own crunch of a snack in order to simulate the theatrical experience at home. However, it just did not feel the same. It lacked a certain level of caramel greatness that GSC, TGV, MBO, or mmCineplexes offered. My eyes lit up for a moment when GSC announced their signature gourmet dish was going to be available on Grab Food. Alas, I was miles away from the outlets that offered that sweet delicacy (sobs in Penang*).

Needless to say, many Malaysians, including myself were elated when the decision to allow cineplexes to resume operations was given. As long as they adhered to the standard operating procedures, it was permitted. FINALLY! We could look forward to some giant entertainment.

I’ve noticed various sentiments floating around, both on social media and among my circle of friends, some of whom are supportive of cinema chains resuming operations, the other side criticising the decision. Then, there are those who remain cautious nonetheless. I do believe that these sentiments come from logical standpoints as those in favour have cited Malaysia’s encouraging COVID-19 numbers and the SOPs in place as a benchmark for it being safe to return. Some might question why entertainment outlets are given the go-ahead before schools. Some feel discouraged by the SOPs, stating that the socially distanced seats and lack of comfort in wearing a mask defeat the purpose of obtaining communal enjoyment in the venue. All of these are solid points as to whether you would choose to go to the cinema or not. That’s OK. It’s a choice, like whether you want to work out, buy an expensive bag, or feed your cat (jk, TAKE CARE OF YOUR PETS YO!)

Regardless of what you think, I believe everyone’s main priority should be to stay safe. As much as we may be able to leap and clap for joy outside of the boundaries of our own homes, there should still be a certain level of care to be observed in order to maintain our golden streak against the pandemic. The battle is not over for the rest of the world, and while we as a nation might be doing relatively well, we should not rest on our laurels too easily.

Nevertheless, as much as theatre venues are available, the same cannot be said about the new releases that fill those white screens. Hollywood films have essentially sat out this summer season and will continue to do so until the dire circumstances in North America and certain regions have subsided. Christopher Nolan’s TENET, which was looking to be this year’s summer opener has twice received the ‘postpone’ treatment, (the Inception rerun might still stick the landing though). Disney’s live-action Mulan had its red-carpet premiere in March but is still seeing red in terms of a worldwide release. New Mutants… (*sigh). That probably would not see a release by the time we colonize another system (jk).

Blockbusters like Black Widow, No Time To Die, TENET and several other Western features may still be out of reach for the foreseeable future. But we need not fret. Asian cinema is still alive and kicking, so this might be a good time to diversify your watchlist. Try an anime or two, or get on board the Train to Busan sequel. Though they may be limited, there are still a bunch of options out there.

For me, I sure am happy about being able to step back into my favourite haunt. I’ve missed it so. Truly I have. Indeed, it will be a rush to walk through those poster laden halls again. Then come the boomin’ trailers. A spicy fast-food commercial that makes you salivate. Some random college ad that you cringe to due to the bad effects work. And of course, the main course that plays after till you lick the plate clean through the saucy credits.

Circumstances right now might not be so ideal, but let’s just learn to live with it. As we continue to maintain our distances as responsible citizens, it’s time to usher in this new era of:

Line. Beep. Scan… Cinema.