The Curtain Comes Down on Yangtze
After 39 eventful years, the curtains were brought down on Chinatown’s Yangtze Cinema on 29 February 2016. As Singapore’s last adult film-centric cinema, Yangtze bore quite a reputation. It was the final tenant to vacate Pearls Centre, a 23-storey commercial-residential complex along Eu Tong Sen Street. The government had announced plans to acquire the building in August 2012 for the construction of sections of the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line and the North-South Expressway. The other tenants were given three years till late 2015 to vacate their premises.
Completed in 1977, Pearls Centre was among several high-rise development projects in Chinatown in the 1970s – with the others being People’s Park Complex in 1973 and People’s Park Centre in 1976. Function preceded form in the 1970s, a period which commonly featured fortress-like buildings of multi-use units that towered over a shopping atrium.
Yangtze Cinema opened on 27 January 1977, in a cinema-going era where many cinemas were built all over the island. The Golden Theatre at Beach Road and the Kallang Theatre at Stadium Walk became the two largest cinemas in Singapore when they opened in the 1970s. Singapore’s largest drive-in cinema, the Jurong Drive-in Cinema, also opened at Yuan Ching Road in 1971. Yangtze’s screening of Hong Kong blockbusters drew cinema-goers and attracted many small and medium enterprises to set up shop at Pearls Centre.
However, in the 1990s, Yangtze faced increased competition from mega movie theatre operators such as Cathay Cineplexes, Golden Village and Shaw Theatres. It was then rebranded as an R21 cinema focusing on the adult film niche. Yangtze consisted of a 425-seat cinema with two halls, Yangtze 1 and Yangtze 2, a bistro serving simple snacks and beverages, and an open-space karaoke lounge with a performance hall on the bottom floor. Films were screened at two-hour intervals, with discounted ticket prices for senior citizens.
With its closure, Yangtze will fade out like a silver screen film. Cinemas, as places of leisure, offer interesting imagery to the social history of early independent Singapore. The wrecking ball might seem imminent but adaptive reuse has allowed some old cinema buildings in the heartland estates to remain. Examples include the Big Mac Centre and Broadway Plaza in Ang Mo Kio, which were previously the Ang Mo Kio and Broadway cinemas; half of the Golden Theatre is now independent cinema The Projector; the Kallang Theatre has been a live performance theatre since the 1980s and has hosted international acts such as Christina Perri, Dream Theater and Mr. Big; and the original Cathay building is now a shopping mall – and national monument too.