Slated to make way for the new Thomson Line, Yangtze Cinema at Pearls Centre has probably seen better days since it opened in 1977. It originally specialised in wuxia films from Hong Kong but declining business forced the cinema’s temporary closure in 1985. Yangtze re-emerged in 1995 in its present incarnation: As a notorious purveyor of prurience for creepy old men who apparently don’t use the internet.
Entering the Lair
To find its cramped box office on the fourth floor of the sleepy building, we first made our way past an unnerving maze of massage parlours, karaoke lounges and shops hawking religious paraphernalia and traditional Chinese medicine. It wouldn’t look out of place in an ’80s hardboiled Hong Kong crime drama.
When we finally found the cavernous cinema lobby, it was as though we had stepped back in time – this despite Yangtze’s supposed upgrade in 2011. Conspicuously absent were the glossy posters advertising the latest Hollywood blockbusters and the saccharine smell of popcorn. Instead, we were greeted by fuzzy billboards, the sickly whiff of spilt beer on the carpet and a grubby box office half-hidden in the darkness.
Even more striking was the lack of movie-goers. We visited on a Friday night, typically a prime movie-watching period, yet only a handful of lonely men were seated on the plush sofas with 15 minutes to go before the next screening. Not particularly encouraging.
'Even more disconcerting was the sound of belts unbuckling and plastic bags rustling around the theatre.'
And then there was the movie itself. After purchasing a $6 ticket to a Chinese C-grade flick bizarrely titled Stinking Angel, we made our way up a long escalator and were led to the theatre by a wizened usher. It was almost empty save for five men on the wrong side of 50s who – curiously at that point in time – were carrying wet market-style red and blue plastic bags, as opposed to the umbrellas of Yangtze lore.
It took us 15 minutes into the movie to realise that the plot was as thin as the hairlines of many in the audience. In a nutshell, the flick involved two buxom women and a middle-aged man with gold-rimmed spectacles, puffed jowls, a luxuriant bouffant and a carnal appetite to match his girth.
And then there’s the sex. The sex scenes were pretty full-on, but more disconcerting was the sound of belts unbuckling and plastic bags rustling that echoed around the theatre each time a steamy sequence came on. By the time the credits rolled, most patrons had already ‘finished’ and left the cinema.
We, however, stayed. When we did exit the theatre, we felt as clean as the urine-soaked staircase that led us back to Pearls Centre. Yangtze Cinema had unfortunately – perhaps fortunately for some – lived up to every bit of its unsavoury reputation.
Yes, the lurid tales we heard from the brave who had sampled its dubious charms were all true. Even if we often lament the disappearance of our built heritage, it’s unlikely that many will mourn the passing of this cinematic icon. Unless, of course, the internet’s out.
Catch a film at Yangtze Cinema before Pearls Centre’s lease expires next August, at 100 Eu Tong Sen St, Level 4 Pearls Centre.