Going to the theater has become kind of mundane, even forgettable and occasionally unpleasant. With the advent of direct downloads for television and film, there’s really little reason to deal with the crowds and cost of going out to see a movie. Modern corporate theaters are little more than massive concrete boxes meant to keep audiences captive long enough to watch all the advertisements that perpetuate this circular business model. There was a time, however, when going to a theater didn’t mean handing money to someone who was just doing their job for the sake of a company expansive enough to know its employees by numbers instead of names. Seeing a film was something that was treated as an event when people dressed in formal attire to reflect the air and image of the surrounding theater. We’re lucky enough in Gwangju to have a theater worth dressing up for.
The Gwangju Theater is a unique independent cinema that has been an important fixture in the heart of downtown since before most (if not all) of the corporate theaters were established in our city. Though this locally owned film house only has one theater inside unlike Megabox, meaning they only play one show at a time, this adds a bit to the atmosphere. This single theater features plush seating that could easily seat more than any 2 screening rooms in a chain theater. There is also something special about knowing everyone in the theater is there to enjoy the same feature, knowing that any person you talk to before the movie will be feeling anticipation for the same reasons and that, after, maybe you could make some new friends comparing your views on the film. Most of the shows at the Gwangju Theater are exclusively Korean titles, though they tend to keep at least one English film in the roster every month. For more info on what they are and will be offering, check out their website (sorry, no English translation) at http://cafe.naver.com/cinemagwangju/ .
This may not be the best theater when it comes to film selection but the pleasure of having a complete theater experience in a beautiful location run by people who are truly passionate about film makes the Gwangju Theater more than worth the price of admission. The standard cost of a single ticket is 8,000 won which sometimes includes promotional items from the film you’ll be viewing (full disclosure: I still have my Moonrise Kingdom poster from the show). From downtown, starting by facing Migliore, turn to the left towards the river and make the first right turn going north past the Migliore (you’re going in the right direction when the Migliore is on your right, a Chatelaine is on your left, and a Tous les Jours with a Twosome Place is behind you). Next, take the second right and you’ll see the theater on your left. It is one street past the 7-11. The theater is close to the Jazz Café, 2 streets past Migliore. Though it can be a little tough to find, the plush bench seats make it totally worthwhile.
With a flood of media available at the push of a button, there’s something truly special about having a place that makes watching a movie memorable again. It’s easy to forget that without the patronage of the community, such beautiful and iconic landmarks fade away and leave us with ersatz monoliths mocking what once was an intrinsic part of a shared social event. The straight and narrow may be more convenient but there’s a reason the most interesting people are found taking their time on the crooked trail.