The third cinema reviewed in this month’s issue of beijingkids is the Daguanlou Cinema 大观楼影院. Previously, we reviewed the China Science and Technology Museum and Broadway Cinematheque. The Daguanlou Cinema is one of the oldest cinemas in Beijing and as a cultural and historical pull to moviegoers. Let’s explore!
Daguanlou Cinema doesn’t have the biggest of screens or the newest facilities. Rather, the venue’s appeal lies in its long history and cultural significance. Located in the storied Qianmen area, Daguanlou is best seen as part of a day trip that encompasses the neighborhood’s other attractions and some traditional Beijing cuisine.
Daguanlou possesses a grand exterior, even by modern standards; a highlight is its lavish ceremonial archway. There are two floors. On the first, you will find a couple tables selling overpriced and poor-quality tea; on the second, there are four screening rooms.
The Wooden Spoon Award (Worst)
Daguanlou has some of the smallest screening rooms we have ever seen. They feel more like home theaters than projection rooms; three out of four have a maximum capacity of around 30 to 35 people each. The “big” screening room shows newer movies but is still only about half the size of a regular screening room at Mega Box, UME, and other big-box chains.
Daguanlou tends to screen foreign and domestic films that are just phasing out of other cinemas. When we visited, it was playing Fast & Furious 6, caper film Now You See Me (both in English with Chinese subtitles), a Chinese romantic drama called Love Will Tear Us Apart, and a literary adaptation called Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon.
Movies play from 10am to 9pm every day, but show times are not as frequent as at larger cinemas. Each film averages five screenings per day; on the bright side, tickets usually only cost RMB 40.
One advantage of the small screening rooms is that there are barely any people; the kids can run around and yell without fear of disturbing others. However, families with strollers or young children might have trouble going up the long, carpeted staircase to the second floor. The modest exhibits have English headings but Chinese-only descriptions. The Western toilets are clean, with both toilet paper and liquid soap provided.
It was hard to decide between the food or the screening rooms for the Golden Raspberry Award. There was popcorn on sale for RMB 15, but we would not vouch for any of the other snacks at Daguanlou; they looked like they had been sitting there for a while. Luckily, there are some reputable restaurants in the area. Siji Minfu (四季民福烤鸭店) is a duck restaurant with good reviews on Dianping. The duck costs RMB 188 per bird, which is much cheaper than at the more famous Quanjude. Established in 1903, Donglaishun (东来顺) is a Beijing hotpot chain that predates Daguanlou by two years; the kids will get a kick out of using the funnel-shaped cooking vessels. For something a bit lighter, head to Huama Tiantang (花马天堂云南餐厅), a reasonably-priced Yunnan restaurant that has the second most reviews on Dianping. If you feel like being decadent, there is always the brunch at Capital M.
Director’s Choice Award (Best)
It is all about location, location, location. Daguanlou might not be the most impressive cinema in Beijing, but it has the best story. At the grand old age of 108, the movie theater is the oldest one in China. Its milestones read like a primer in Chinese film history:
•In 1905, the first Chinese film, Ding Jun Shan, was screened here.
•In 1930, the cinema caused a huge stir when it allowed men and women to sit together for the first time.
•In 1935, Daguanlou imported a 35mm Pathi Kinetphone projector with sound from France.
• In 1970, the cinema underwent renovations.
•In 1987, Daguanlou became the first “big-screen” cinema in China (“big” by the standards of the time) when it started to show 70mm films.
Daguanlou is located on Dashilar, a buzzing commercial street that has been around since the reign of Emperor Yongle. If you head south from Dashilar, you’ll eventually arrive at the west gate of the Temple of Heaven.
How to Get There
Bus: 2, 20, 48, 59, 66, 69, 71, 93, 120, 729. Get off at Dashilar bus stop.
Subway: Take Line 2 and get off at Qianmen station. Walk to Dashilar Jie; the cinema is just southwest of the subway station.
Daily 10am-10pm. 36 Dashilar Jie, Qianmen, Xicheng District (6303 0878) www.zhdyy.com.cn 西城区前门大栅栏街36号