I’m a huge movie buff. Going to the movies has always been one my favorites things to do in the whole world. No matter how bad things are going….sitting in a dark movie theater and watching a great flick is the perfect way to escape from your problems for a few hours.
During my second week in Vietnam, Di Tu (Aunt #4) invited me to go see the new live action version of Mulan (Hua Moc Lan) at the local cinema. I actually had the DVD already, but could never find the time to sit down and watch it…and this was my first opportunity to check out the nearby theater.
The Cinebox Hoa Binh is a movie theater just a few blocks from my Aunt’s house on 3 Thang 2 street. It’s a huge building but it only has 3 screens; my Aunt says that it is also used as a staging area for big celebrations and occasionally live shows. Two tickets for Mulan was 60,000 Dong….or about $3 Dollars. My Aunt had never watched a movie in this particular theater before and says that is about half the price of a ticket at the other theater she frequents.
As we entered to take our seats….we were ushered to a couple of seats in the back even though there were no assigned seat numbers on our tickets. I asked if we could sit in a different area that was currently empty…but I was told that the seats there were already reserved; that turned out to be a blatant lie. The area that I wanted to sit in was empty the entire time we were there. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason why the ushers seated people where they did…the only thing I could think of is that they were trying to purposely spread out people throughout the theater to make the place seem more full.
When we first entered the theater, there were signs posted in Vietnamese listing the theater rules.
1. No talking during the movie
2. No talking on cell phones
3. No cameras or filming equipment allowed
4. No outside food or drink allowed
These are some pretty standard rules for theaters in The States…and I was happy to see that the same type of conduct was expected in Saigon. I was a bit worried about movie etiquette in Vietnam because this country has such a “me first” attitude. You see it in the traffic…where everyone basically drives without any regard for anyone else’s safety. You see it in lines at the supermarkets, food stalls, etc. where most people just shove their way to the front to cut in line. You see it in the ubiquitous littering everywhere. I had hopes that the movie theater experience might actually be different because of the rules posted in the front. They also had pre-movie videos reiterating the same rules posted on the board.
My worse fears however were soon proven to be correct.
People were talking to each other, talking on their cell phones, eating their own food, etc. before the movie started, during the movie trailers and throughout the movie itself. I don’t believe there was one moment during the whole excruciating ordeal when I could just focus on the movie. The movie itself was in Chinese with Vietnamese subtitles…so I couldn’t understand anything anyways…but I knew the basic plot from the Disney version and would have liked to have been able to focus on the film without the constant blabbering.
Yes there are people that behave like that in The States too….but usually they are in the minority…and even then they usually only talk in spurts. Here, everyone acted if the theater was their own personal space. People not only answered their phones….but would initiate calls. If it was just a few people you can turn to them and tell them to “shut the f$%k up!”…but what do you do when the entire freaking theater is acting that way?
As we left…I told my Aunt that this was probably the first and last time I would ever watch a movie in a Vietnam cinema. When I relayed what happened to my cousin and her husband, they told me that the type of people that frequent the Cinebox Hoa Binh were mostly younger kids that use the theater as a place to hang out/make out and not for serious movie goers. They said that the nicer theaters in Saigon did not permit this type of behavior.
I had wanted to see Avatar for awhile now….the movie opened up in the U.S. a couple of days before I left…but I never had the time to go see it. My cousin’s husband Phuong was also eager to catch it on the big screen. Avatar was showing in 3D at only 2 locations in Vietnam….The Megastar Cineplex in Hanoi and Saigon. My mom and sister had just seen the 3D version last week and my mom raved to me about the movie and the 3D effects. This was the type of movie that you have to see in the theater to get the full experience.
So last night I invited Phuong to go see Avatar. He picked me up on his motorbike at my Aunt’s house since the Megastar was nearby. We arrived at the theater at around 7:30pm and decided to just park at the underground garage and eat at the food court inside the Hung Vuong Plaza…in which the movie theater was located. We found out when we showed up to buy the tickets that the 3D shows were sold out for another week….and since we were already there, we decided that we would just see the regular version….turns out that this disappointment was just a sign of things to come.
The food court inside the mall was pretty much a carbon copy of what you would find in America. I decided that I was going to have a hamburger. After a month and a half of eating nothing but Vietnamese food…I needed a change. There is a pretty big chain in Vietnam called Lotteria that is basically a burger/fried chicken joint. I ordered the Burger Pho Mai (Cheeseburger) which cost 26,000 Dong ($1.40). I had pretty low expectations for the burger since I was aware that Vietnamese versions of western food usually fall far short of the originals. While the burger itself turned out better than I expected….it was only about 1/3 the size of an American burger…..and about 1/5th of a Fuddrucker’s burger. We had to order spring rolls from a chain called “Wrap and Roll” to fill ourselves.
We headed to the theater after our mediocre dinner and sat down in our assigned seats. The theater was virtually empty…with maybe 1/8 of the seats being occupied. I guess most everyone was holding out for the 3D version. The Megastar Cineplex is a much nicer looking theater than the Hoa Binh Cinebox. According to Phuong, the theater had just opened in the past year. The theater we were in was small in comparison to most theaters in the U.S…..but it had stadium riser seating….which the Cinebox did not….and the sound system and picture quality was excellent. However, all these qualities could not end up saving the whole movie going experience for me.
In spite of my cousin and Phuong’s assurances people in the “nicer theaters” in Saigon behaved differently than the people at Hoa Binh….it was exactly the same. People here cannot ever keep their mouths shut. I tried to block them out but it was impossible for me to fully enjoy the movie. I was tempted to use my Monkey Poop Kung Fu on their asses.
To top the whole night off….when Phuong and I went to pick up his motorbike both our helmets were stolen! My second stolen helmet in a week!! I was going to take my helmet with me when we parked but Phuong assured me that no one would dare steal helmets at this upscale shopping center….with 2-3 security guards working the entrance/exit. Apparently that didn’t make any difference at all. I know that this was entirely my fault….I should have learned my lesson the first time. Fool me once shame on you….fool me twice shame on me. That goes for both the helmets and the movies.
I bought a new helmet this morning. Different design this time since the other ones have only been bad luck. Patriotic red, white and blue. This helmet was twice as expensive as my old ones…with wrap around leather stitching around the edges making the helmet much more comfortable to wear. I will never leave my helmet unattended again. And from now on I will learn to enjoy watching movies on my Aunt’s tiny CRT TV. It’s going to be a long time before I see another movie in a theater…..and definitely never again in Vietnam.