By Lee Hyo-won
Large multiplex movie theaters have become the norm, with wide screens and killer sound systems. But for those looking for something slightly different, there are alternatives to spice things up. Spend some time at an artsy, retro theater, combine a five-star hotel dinner with cinema, or go to a drive-in theater.
Blast From Past
It's far from the bright neon signs and large glossy halls of multiplex theaters. Dream Cinema, Seoul's last remaining single-screen theater, gives you a whiff of nostalgia with its run-down charm. It has been part of the Seodaemun landscape in northern Seoul for the past 45 years and is still widely known by its former name Hwayang.
Once the ultimate hotspot for Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s, it now caters mostly to free movie previews. With the area's renovation plans, Seoul may soon have to bid the Dream Cinema farewell once and for all.
But before being torn down, the theater is reliving its past glory in style. Hundreds of moviegoers are flocking over to the dormant theater to watch the explosively popular romance flick ``Dirty Dancing.'' It has been showing on an open run since last November, marking the 20th anniversary of the 1987 movie.
``It's sort of crazy,'' Kim Eun-joo, 35, the head of Dream Cinema, told The Korea Times. She invested 100 million won to change the movie screen and update the sound system ― to do justice to her all-time favorite film. The cinephile translated subtitles herself.
Kim transformed the entire theater to a 1980s look. Kim Young-joon, who painted movie posters for Dream Cinema back in the day, took up the brush one last time for the hand-painted poster that decorates the entrance. Once you step inside, you will notice the turntable and vinyl records, which Kim purchased to complete the retro appeal. There is also an antique movie projector on display.
Plus, you pay 3,500 won ― the 1980s price ― for your ticket.
You won't find cushioned, reclining seats here ― the red chairs are hard and worn out, and rather uncomfortable, with 700 seats tightly packed on a sloped platform. But Kim has achieved her purpose: It's like a time machine that takes you back to the past.
Kim had seen the movie ― illegally ― when it opened here at the Joonang Theater in 1988. She was a middle school student at the time and the movie was rated 18 and over. She tried to sneak in a couple of times but failed, until the third time when she, clad in awkward make-up, accompanied her big sister.
``I don't regret it,'' she said about the far from profitable endeavor. ``In fact, I think I would have regretted it if I didn't do it. Audiences don't forget to thank us as they leave. We have people coming all the way from Busan to watch it. There are fathers and daughters doing dance steps in the hallway afterward; it's wonderful.''
Dream Cinema's shutdown date has been postponed, and will continue to screen ``Dirty Dancing'' possibly throughout the year. It is located directly outside of exit 8 of Seodaemun station on subway line 5. Screening times are 11:20 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:20 p.m. and 5:10 p.m. but may vary. Call (02) 362-3149 (automated message in Korean) or (02) 362-2797 to speak with a staff member.
A romantic dinner followed by a movie makes a timeless date ― why not combine the two in one place? The multiplex CGV theater offers an ultra-luxurious cinema experience served with a first rate meal.
At ``Cine de Chef,'' located in Apgujeong CGV in southern Seoul, you can enjoy a movie in a state-of-the-art theater after a gourmet meal in a classy restaurant where Cordon Blue-certified chefs whip up ``Nouv'Oriental'' or modern Asian cuisine.
They give you the royal treatment. After leaving your car with the valet service, you will be personally escorted by staff members. Once you get off the elevator (exclusively for Cine de Chef guests), you can leave personal belongings in the cloakroom.
You'll feel cozy in the theater, which seats just 30 people in the special-ordered chairs by Quinette Gallay ― the same ones found in the private theaters of Arabic royal families. Cine de Chef has given new meaning to what makes a killer sound system by installing the surround sound system found in music halls and studios ― the first in the world ― along with the nation's first floor-installed speakers. The movie screen, three times the cost of conventional ones, boasts heightened clarity.
There are three lunch options, a meal (12-2 p.m.) with a movie either before (10 a.m.-12 p.m.) or afterward (2-4 p.m.), or a late lunch and movie 3-7 p.m. This costs 60,000 won (per person) on weekdays and 80,000 on weekends. For dinner, have your meal and movie 6-10 p.m. or 8:50-11:40 p.m. It is 80,000 won on weekdays and 100,000 won on weekends (including Friday night).
Last year, reservations for Christmas Eve were fully booked more than two months in advance. As of Wednesday, reservations for St. Valentine's Day were about half full. Call (02) 3446-0541~2 (11 a.m.-11 p.m.) to book a spot. Payments are made at the venue. The online reservation service is temporarily unavailable but you can still visit www.cinedechef.com for more information.
Parking is a pain when it comes to driving to movie theaters. Outdoor drive-in theaters are the ultimate solution. It's also a big treat for families with toddlers and those reluctant to leave their pet at home. And, of course, it's a classic spot for dates.
There are a surprisingly large number of drive-in movie theaters in Korea. Make sure your radio and sound system are functioning properly, because you get the audio through them. They give you the radio frequency number at the entrance. Some theaters have small portable radios prepared in case you have problems.
Theaters usually charge about 13,000-20,000 won per vehicle, regardless of the number of passengers. But obviously, a small van full of people might be inconvenient in that those sitting in the back would have heads blocking their view of the screen.
Turn off the headlights and a staff member will assist you with the parking. You should arrive about 30 minutes in advance so you can settle down with ease.
As for the exhaust emissions, there is a law against leaving the car running. Drive-in theaters are open all year long, even when it rains or snows. So when the temperature falls below 1 degree Celcius or shoots above 27 degrees, you can keep the air conditioner on for 10 minutes. Dress warmly and bring a fuzzy blanket to keep you warm during this time of the year.
There are usually snack bars, but avid fans of drive-in theaters say one of the best parts is that you can eat whatever you want. Take a pizza or a box of fried chicken, or rolls of gimbab and cup ramyeon.
Most theaters play the latest big movies about a week after their release at regular theaters. Most drive-in theaters have one screen, but some have two or three for different movies. Currently showing on most screens are ``Forever the Moment,'' ``Hellcats'' and ``Open City.'' Beginning next Thursday, moviegoers can expect to see films like ``Lovers of 6 Years'' and ``Radio Days.'' Showings start past 7 p.m.
The following Web sites are in Korean, but provide a host of useful information including show times, entrance fees, location maps and discounts. Many offer discounts for the physically disabled, elders and those with memberships. Some also have discount coupons for you to print out on the Web site.
Cinus EOE4 Namsan (www.cinus.co.kr/Theaters/Branch_Info.asp?cinemacode=1002). Multiplex chain Cinus offers moviegoers a romantic experience in a forested area. Located near N Seoul Tower (Namsan) in central Seoul. Call 02-2234-0625.
Jamsil Drive-In Theater (www.jamsildit.co.kr). Located by the Han River in Jamsil, eastern Seoul. There are two screens. Call 02-3431-0566.
Karma21 (www.karma21.co.kr). Located in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul, public preview events for cool car movies like ``Transformers'' and ``Taxi 4'' were recently held here. Call 02-508-3528.
Wonju: Cinedream (www.cinedream.co.kr). Located near Chiaksan Dream Land, this is a popular theater with two screens. Call 033-732-9007.
Movie Hunting (www.moviehunting.com). Call 032-831-5139.
Anseong: Movie Mountain (www.moviemountain.co.kr). Call 031-656-4895.
Yangpyeong-gun: Unimo (www.ditunimo.co.kr). Call 031-773-7893.
Pocheon: Cinemovie (www.cinemovie.co.kr). Call 031-543-0245.
Namyang: Deokso Cine Bluebird (www.cineblueird.com). Call 031-543-0245.
Paju (Ilsan): Car Movie (www.carmovie.co.kr). Call 031-945-0609.
Yangju-gun: Jangheung Car Theater (www.cartheater.co.kr). Call 031-855-6061.
Pocheon-gun: Ildong Big Cine (www.bigcine.co.kr). Call 031-531-7400.
Pyeongtaek: Pyeongtaek Theater (www.p-t-i.co.kr). Call 031-682-0410.
Gimpo: Drive-Inn Kimpo (www.drive-inn.co.kr). Call 031-997-8290.
South Chungcheong Province
Seocheon-gun: Road Cinema (www.roadcinema.co.kr). Call 041-956-5563.
Nonsan: Hwangsanbull (www.carscreen.co.kr). Call 041-732-2448.
Cheonan: Cheonan Drive-In Theater (www.dbcinema.co.kr). Call 041-558-6061.
Geumsan-gun: Geumsan Drive-In Theater (www.otomovie.co.kr). Call 041-751-0050.
Hongseong-gun: Yongbongsan Cinema (www.cinecar.com). Call 041-631-8132.
Expo Cinema (www.expocinema.co.kr). Call 042-863-0104.
Cine80 (www.cine80.co.kr). Call 053-984-8008.
North Gyeongsang Province
Gyeongsan: Gatbawi Theater (www.movie80.com). Call 053-853-1530.
Chilgok-gun: Palgongsan (www.80movie.co.kr). Call 053-588-5210.
South Gyeongsang Province
Gimhae: Cinema Town (www.cinema-town.co.kr). Call 055-255-8290.
Namhae: Yeongyukgyo Theater (www.cinecar.co.kr). Call 055-867-4040.
Changwon: Cineforyou/C44U (www.c44u.co.kr). Call 055-299-4747.
Cinema Beach (www.cinemabeach.co.kr). Call 052-298-6622.
Cinepark (www.cinepark.co.kr). Call 052-746-0330.