The good ol’ days of theatre going ….

A recent discussion over Fat Dragon’s Chinatown blog prompted this post…

Remember the good ol’ days where we went to see movies in real theatres. Stand alone. Majestic. Cool. Well, for the Roaring Forties generation anyway.

Some names of KL theatres come into mind. REX. FEDERAL. CATHAY. ODEON. – For English movies. CAPITOL, PAVILION – for Chinese movies. MAJESTIC – for Indian movies. These were run by Shaw Brothers, Cathay cinemas as opposed to todays Tanjung Golden Village, GSC & Cathay cineplexes.

These names really stir up fond memories. Bruce Lee blazed and kicked his way through the silver screen in REX. The sen-surround vibrations of EARTHQUAKE the movie & the chariots of BEN HUR, shook the seats of ODEON.  Jacky Chan snaked & eagled his way through PAVILION. Crocodile Dundee knifed his way through in FEDERAL. Bobby sang and danced his way in Majestic. Gosh, such fond fond memories indeed.

Although the theatres were scattered all over – Rex (Jln. Sultan) near Chinatown, Cathay & Pavilion (Jln. Bukit Bintang), Capitol & Federal (Jln Chow Kit), Majestic (Jln. Tuanku Abdul Rahman), theatre times were almost always fixed at 11am (morn matinee), 1pm, 3pm, 7pm, 9pm, 11pm. I remember being able to catch 3 shows in a day during peak movie runs. For eg. you can see a movie in Federal and then pop over to next door to Capitol (which is in Jln Chow Kit) for the 1pm and 3pm movies respectively and then take a bus for another movie at 7pm say in Cathay or Pavilion.

I also remember rushing for shows after school on Fridays with my friends as BBGS was only about 15 mins walk to Cathay or Pavilion. Note it was done only on Fridays coz we were let off school early. Then we would run along Jln. Bukit Bintang, grab a roast beef sandwich or something like that from Arby’s or a burger from Mc D & run off  to catch the 1pm show there. The thrill was to run, buy food & yet catch the movie on time. 

The movie experience itself was also different. There were two levels of seats. Downstairs and upstairs. For the downstairs seating, there were the RM1.25 seats (which were close to the screen – those days the gradient of the cinema floor was non existent and you had to crane your neck to watch the movie) and the RM1.60 seats (which were from the middle upwards). Upstairs was 2 or 2.50. Cant really remember coz we usually bought the RM1.60 seats.  You normally only bought upstairs tickets when it was a special occasion, or if you were to watch with parents (coz that meant they were paying) or that special someone. So it was somewhat of a novelty to sit upstairs.  Then also there were the FREELIST tickets. Till today I’ m not quite sure how ppl get hold of these tickets.

Those days the seats were not as comfortable as now but then there was always an usher with a torchlight who would show you the seats if you came in late and the lights were switched off. Talk about service right???

And the tidbit stalls… can you remember you could get jagung boiled in salted water, boiled kacang in paper cones, kacang putih, ice cream, crackers, all sorts of noisy snacks ….  It was a cycle galore of multi racial vendors peddling all sorts of snacks.  They were the illegal ones of course as the cinema management would always have a store of their own. But hey, contraband snacks always taste better, no?  

By the time we could drive, I remember having to line our cars to wait for cars of movie goers for earlier shows to vacate the parking lot …. so so fun indeed.

Now alas, it is the age of cineplexes, where you can catch all movies under one roof. There is no need to run for shows. No need to juggle schedules for theatres in different locations. No need to line your cars up in a neat row to drive into the vast sandy lots. No ushers .. Oh I do miss the simplicity (or the young ppl would say the complexity, given the inconvenience) of those days ….. Oh but that’s the movie experience of a Roaring Fortier that once was….



  • Rex theatre is officially still a movie theatre but it really is endangered given the preference for newer multiplexes. 
  • Odeon showed movies until 1997. It has since been turned into an arcade selling saris, clothes and knick knacks of sorts.
  • Coliseum‘s colonial style theatre continues to show Indian movies, is now privately owned by a doctor. The building gazetted by the govt to be a National Heritage.
  • Federal was turned into two cineplexes but eventually closed down in 2001
  • Capitol was a Chinese movie hall until 1996. After that it switched to Indian movies and eventually closed down in 2000.
  • Pavilion closed down in 1996, became a dance club after that and the building was eventually demolished in 2000. Cathay  closed down shortly after Pavilion in 1997. They are both now parking lots. Sad.

 For a complete list of classic movie theaters in Malaysia and a glossary of their history, check out this link.



7 responses to “The good ol’ days of theatre going ….

  1. Don’t I just luuurve talking about the good ol’ times! I remember those skewers of lok-lok they sold outside Cathay and packets of black kuaci (Eagle Brand, I think). Of course, I never bought any, as I was somehow brainwashed into thinking the hygiene was suspect. Across the road from Cathay, there is/was a fab wantan mee stall selling, in my opinion, the noodle with the crunchiest bite.

    Let me reminisce some more. I remember watching Blue Lagoon from the front row because the tickets were nearly sold out(!). What torture to crane the neck! Up till today, I have a phobia of watching movies too near the screen. And cinema tickets were RM3.20 (Circle), RM1.60 (First Class) and RM1.20, or was it RM0.80? We schoolkids always went for the RM1.60.

  2. The old cinema I am acquainted to is probably Rex. I remember Jurassic Park was on for like three months! And I didn’t even get to see because the tickets were always sold out! I bumped into a pervert while I was there with friends watching some cina movie, listening to Mat Sallehs screaming as rats walked past their legs while watching Armageddon alone by myself, killing time while waiting for a bus to go down to Sitiawan – we watched Heat, starring Robert De Niro… and I watched a damn good movie that is still my top favorite till today: Forrest Gump in Rex.

  3. Pink Jeans: Hmmm… were circle seats so expensive then? It wasn’t RM2.50? … But yeah…those days the front seats were real killers. I remember being in a similiar situation in the Phils where there were no seats but the front. Fat Dragon and I opted to sit on the steps situated higher up instead. Desperate right?

    Gina: I myself have had close encounters with our dear old mousie friends in Rex. Given that ppl spill or even throw food onto the floor, the sweepers could hardly clean them all up. Moreover, the dark atmosphere of the theatre was probably a real haven for them. Till today I make myself comfy in the theatre by taking off my shoes and tucking my legs up on the seat ….. just in case – ahahahahah!

  4. You are lucky that they didn’t cart away your shoes while you tuck your leg up on the seat!! Haha! 😀

  5. Aaaah, so now we know what that strange “sook” smell in the cinemas is…feet!!! Anyway, I think you’re right…Circle was $2.50 or maybe $2.30 (think I got the figures mixed up).

  6. Pink Jeans: Ahahahaha….guilty as charged ….. (with rgds to the olfactory issue, that is)

  7. Imagine cinema tickets at the Golden City Cinema back then (sorry same time – hahaha) in Seremban cost RM 1.00 for circle seats, RM 0.65 for first class and RM 0.40 for second class.

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