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Located in the heart of Beijing, Daguanlou Theater is where China's cinematic past collides with its present. It's a theater that plays new Chinese films and the latest Hollywood blockbusters, while occasionally screening some of China's screen gems.
Although you don't hear the name Ren Qingtai (1850-1932) mentioned very much when people talk about Chinese cinema, he single-handedly launched China's film industry over a century ago by opening the humble Daguanlou Theater.
Ren founded the theater in 1903 where it later played the first film made in China, The Battle of Mount Dingjun, in 1905. In 2005 it was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest-running movie theater in the world, and it still plays movies today at its original location in Qianmen, Xuanwu district.
"We play both old and new movies, but old films aren't as popular and we don't screen them daily because we need to make room for the newer releases," said the theater's manager, who only gave his surname as Wang.
Adorning the walls inside the lobby downstairs are pictures revealing the early days of the theater, along with other memorabilia rich in Chinese film history, such as old projectors and costumes.
Hanging from the top of the walls are framed black-and-white headshots of actors who contributed to China's celluloid industry.
The two-story cinema has three auditoriums that have been remodeled over the years, and all of them utilize digital projection.
The downstairs lobby offers an old-style teahouse setting and sells various traditional Chinese snacks along with popcorn, soft drinks, and even beer.
Unlike other cinemas in Beijing, the Daguanlou Theater is not attached to a bustling shopping center, thus making it more accessible without any distractions or heavy traffic.
Another advantage is that it's inexpensive when compared to other cinemas. Wang said "special discounts" are offered for some films, with adults paying just 10 yuan ($1.50) and kids under 14 getting in free.
"We don't have many residents living around this area now and in the past elderly people accounted for most of our business, but nowadays people off all ages come here," Wang said of the theater's demographic of moviegoers.
|1. Seeking Mr. Right|
2. Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters
3. Ip Man: Final Fight
4. Journey to the West
5. An End to Killing