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Seoul's last remaining old-style movie theater to close

All Headlines 10:42 July 10, 2012

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- Seoul's last remaining old-style cinema with a hand-painted movie billboard will fade into history this week as the owner wants to remodel the building into a large-scale hotel.

Seodaemun Art Hall located near the city center will close down after Wednesday's final screening of the Italian director Vittorio De Sica's 1948 film "The Bicycle Thief" at 1 p.m., according to the cinema's operator on Tuesday.

"The film projector of the Seodaemun Art Hall will run for the last time on Wednesday," the operator said in a release. "We have to close down, kneeling down to the capitalist logic."

Originally called Hwayang Theater, the 600-seat facility opened in 1964 and is today the city's last remaining single screen theater available for both movie screenings and art performances.

The old-style theater managed to survive when most such theaters were driven out of business over the past decade by polished and modern multiplex cinemas, mostly run by subsidiaries of large conglomerates.

Rather than trying to adapt to the changing cinema environment, the theater capitalized on being old. It transformed itself into a facility catering to the rising cultural demands of senior citizens in 2010. Called the Cheongchun (Youth) Theater, it drew fresh public attention as a place where senior citizens could meet friends and watch a movie for 2,000 won (US$1.70) with financial support from the Seoul metropolitan government.

But the thriving theater had to face a new challenge after the building's owner was changed last year.

"We were allowed by the new owner to do a remodeling of the theater in July last year. But two months later, the owner abruptly informed us of his decision to redevelop it," Kim Eun-joo, chief of the company operating the theater, said, adding that the owner plans to construct a large-scale hotel on the site of the theater building.

"For all the signatures from 10,000 senior citizens on a petition to defend the theater, we were eventually unable to keep it," she said.

Kim said she and several other senior members of the company will shave their hair in public on Wednesday in protest against the planned redevelopment.

The theater is now showing free screenings of the Italian classic movie twice a day from Monday to mark the closure.

sshim@yna.co.kr
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