Cinema Memories in Brunei Revisited

In February last year I wrote about cinemas in Brunei. Recently I was in KB and my uncle was pointing out to me where the projector house used to be in the padang in front of the mosque. A conversation with a number of other people meant that I have more information. So I thought I will bring back that old posting of mine and edit it to include all the new information.

In the 1960s and 1970s I remembered going to the padang in Muara watching movies being played there. There will be lots and lots of people there – all watching black and white movies. I don’t think the movies were in colour then. I remembered my dad used to own one of those home movie projectors and every time we stayed at my auntie’s place in Seria, he would play one of those silent movies and there would be lots of people watching it. It was unbelievable. Dad used to be one of the first to own a home movie equipment and we would get to see ourselves on screen after he has sent off the film for processing somewhere in the world. Today, in the days of 50 inch plasma television with multi media multi surround home movie equipment, those days were almost unthinkable. Though ironically, despite our new found wealth – we still buy $5 pirated DVD. But today’s topic is not about $5 pirated DVDs but rather on the growth of cinemas in Brunei.

For some reason, cinemas never found a strong foothold in Brunei. Before the first world war, there was one cinema but it was destroyed during the war. It was rebuilt as the Boon Pang and later on in Bandar, we had three - the Boon Pang, the Bolkiah and the Borneo, the latter two built in the 1950s. The Boon Pang is now gone replaced by the BIBD building. The Boon Pang had an interesting history. It was once used as a detention centre for a few months. After the 1962 rebellion, the army rounded up all the detainees and placed them in the open tennis court areas at the padang. The Police Station in front of the mosque was still there then. The detainees were eventually removed to the Boon Pang to keep them from being out in the open and while preparing the teacher training institute in Berakas as a detention centre for long term placements.

Other than the Boon Pang, the Borneo and Bolkiah are still there though I have never been inside either one. So I don’t know what the places look like. I don’t even know what movies are currently being shown there. The Bolkiah I have been told has been upgraded and one should go there at least to find out the better experience of watching a movie in a full size cinema unlike the miniscule ones in the Empire or the Mall. The Empire’s and the Mall’s multiplexes are today’s in-thing. We no longer have huge cinemas but small ones catering to smaller crowds. Though on a good day, these multiplexes would play the same movie spanning across three or four cinemas. Another cinema was the Seri at Batu Satu, Jalan Tutong. That did not survive for long. At first run by the owner but later on by the Chinese Chambers. It did not make much money and was razed down when the owners were thinking of building a hotel there.

I thought there was an old cinema in Tutong but I could not be sure where it was. My cousin's husband, a Tutongian said he used to go to the cinema. He said it did not have a name. I vaguely remembered it. It was somewhere opposite the Police Station, well not directly opposite sort of diagonally opposite.

I know in KB, there are at least 4 cinemas previously. The Roxana has been razed down. Roxana was said to be structurally unsound. It is now an empty lot. Another cinema in Kuala Belait was the Capital. This is I have been told somewhere near the SKBB Plaza or around that area. My uncle said it was nearer the Town Hall. So far I have not been able to get a photograph of that place. It would have been interesting to see a cinema smack in the middle of Kuala Belait. Roxana was a few miles away from KB and not a true KB cinema but more of a Seria cinema.

If I am not mistaken the Marina is still standing but whether it is still functioning that’s another matter. Maybe someone from Belait can elighten me. It used to be a grand building when Seria was completed in the 1950s. The OGDC is now being used as a cinema which is good as at least people from Belait has someplace to watch. Another one which people still remembered is the Puspa which was somewhere at the back of the Seria filling station.

Today we have the Empire, the Mall and the Q Lap Mall all providing multiplexes and the Borneo and Bolkiah still providing the old fashioned single screen type. I am not sure what format OGDC in Seria shows. Probably the single screen type.


Al-Qadr said…
The exact location of the good old Capital Theatre (which had been demolished ages ago) in Kuala Belait is now a vacant lot in between the KB Chung Hua Middle School and the Swiss Hotel there, if I am not mistaken, BRo.

I believe another cineplex is part of the recently-unfolded Master Plan for BSP's ultra-modern commercial development in Seria (apart from an all-new Bowling Alley?) which is now in the works, having been presented to His Majesty during the B'day do in KB last July. You should know better, of course, Mr P.S. :)

What bothers me about movie buffs (more than half of the Bruneian population are, I think) is that we love Hollywood (or Bollywood to some) more than we do Malaysian or Indonesian movies. The saddest part is that we are a big ZERO in terms of a truly local Bruneian film culture... :( Why don't I go into event management and try to organize a Brunei Film Festival, eh? At least it may create some kind of awareness for the vacuum or void in the Bruneian film scene to be filled. That will be the day! Dream on, Mo! ;)

But seriously, BRo, some of your historical writings could have been made into a movie screenplay already. Now, I am going over the top to suggest that a young MCYS like HRH Prince Abdul 'Azim and a DM @ MCYS like your goodself is THE DREAM TEAM to start the ball rolling, man! I am not kidding! :)
Unknown said…
Mohammad's right, it's the vacant land between the ChungHua school and Swiss Hotel. There used to be a famous cafe/restaurant selling chicken rice that's in the same building
View from NY said…
There seems to be one omission. There used to be another cinema called the Seri Theatre at Seri Complex on mile 1.5 jalan Tutong.

If I remember correctly, it was first opend around 1975 and torn down in the late 1980s, along with the rest of the shophouses in seri Complex. Right now its the huge empty ground next to the Seri Post Office and facing "First Metro".

Interestingly, I recall that Seri Theatre has a little restaurant as an extension of its front porch. It used to be a popular place to hang-out. My only memory was being taken for treat of fried chicken wings there when I was a child.

The Boon Pang Theatre also has a little cafe or snack bar attached to the side of its first floor, called "OKK Cafe" - OKK being the initials of the cinema's owner Dato Ong Kim Kee. I remember it as somewhat of a dark and smokey dive, where one can enjoy "ice cream floats". Apparently, it was a popular place for dates in the 60s and 70s (just imagine bell bottomed trousers, kebayas and beehive hairdos).
Al-Qadr said…
Dear kh, our good BRo did write a few lines on the Seri (Theatre) in Jln Tutong in his posting. At first glance I thought it was overlooked but I re-read and it was not forgotten by Mr BR.

Why I bother to reply to you is to highlight the funny thing about online reading or communication e.g. blog posts, emails, Skype chats, MSN messenger, SMS texting, etc. is that messages tend to get lost in interpretation. This may even cause unnecessary 'online' miscommunication, misunderstanding and chaotic arguments. I can't help being amused or disgusted by raucous postings by chatterers in chat box sometimes.

I still believe the best form of communication is face-to-face, up close and personal. Besides it is one of the most effective means in strengthening relations as always encouraged in the Islamic way of "Silaturrahim" or acquaintance.

What surprised me the most is how arrogant and rude we Bruneians have become these days. Time for the authorities to come up with the good old 'Courtesy Campaign'!:)
View from NY said…
Thanks for correcting me. My apologies. Having re-read the article, I found the reference.

Let me share another anecdote on cinemas. For many years, the Bolkiah Cinema was run by a group of (mainly Chinese) shareholders. Only recently it was taken over by new investors. Anyway, one of the perks of being a shareholder was that every month they get a special card that entitles them to 5(free) tickets to every show in the cinema. I used to have a neighbour whose family has one of those cards, so on lazy afternoons during school holidays we would show up and the lady in the ticket booth would simply mark-off the spaces on the card and we get our tickets. The downside is that shows on week day afternoons were usually bad...pretty bad!
SoulJah said…
I've been into Bolkiah Theater once or twice after the remodelling to catch otherwise fully booked movies at the Mall or Empire. But as of now, there hasn't been any showings lately if I'm not mistaken. It's a one screen cinema.

I've been into Borneo as well, but if I recall correctly, it's no longer in operation as well. The fire to Ocean department store right next to it triggered an effort to remodel the place, but still hasn't got many patronage like it used to. The last time I remember when the whole theater was full, I believe was of a showing of Isabella, a malay movie, released way back when. The most recent I've been there was of a showing of Dawn of the Dead, 2004. It was empty then, as only 4 of us were in the whole cinema, but we can see that the whole cinema was actually really huge, much bigger than the modern cinemas of today. This one's a two screener I think.
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