The Bearded Giant is an avid moviegoer. Over the last 25 years he has seen roughly 1,000 movies in the theater (plus bunches on cable, DVD, and Netflix). And he wasn’t about to pass on seeing the latest summer blockbusters just because he was 5,000 miles from Hollywood. But going to a movie in China is a very different experience from seeing one in the U.S. So it was off to the local cinema for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron!
Biggest difference? Reserved seating. That’s right. No wandering around the theater trying to find that perfect seat. No lining up outside the theater to be ready for a big showing. All seats are reserved. If you buy at the theater itself, the attendant (or kiosk) will show you a layout of all the seats in the theater, marked with which ones are still available. Tickets go on sale online and through phone apps roughly a week in advance (it may be longer) and prime seats get snatched up quickly. So if it’s Tuesday and you are thinking about seeing a movie Friday night, you might just find that all the “good” seats are already gone. In this case, we went to a 3pm showing on Thursday (the movie opened Tuesday here) and less than 20 seats were filled. Third day of one of the biggest movies of the year, and the place was almost empty.
Pricing? Well that’s hit or miss. A couple years ago, we went to see a big movie in Shanghai, and prices were substantially higher than in the U.S. (which makes them seem astronomically high when so many things are so much cheaper). But for Avengers 2 in Changchun? Just 30 RMB a ticket (roughly $4.95). And that was for a 3-D showing, opening week. It’s hard to tell if that was a special price because so few tickets had been sold, but I will update when I’ve seen a couple more films.
Concessions? Many of the same things you would see in America. Popcorn, Candy, Sodas, etc. The biggest difference here is portion size. Think of the smallest popcorn you have seen offered at your local multiplex. That is a “large” in Changchun. And a large fountain drink is about 16-18oz worth. Nothing like the diabetic-coma-in-a-cup you’ll find at your local Cinemark or Regal. A helpful attendant walked over to the kiosk where we were printing our tickets, tablet in hand, and asked if we wanted a concession combo. Never one to pass on snacks, The Bearded Giant heartily agreed. A “combo” for 47RMB (or about $7.80) included two “large” drinks, a “large” popcorn, a box of some sort of strange candy, and a fake ice cream sundae (made with that strange non-dairy fake soft serve). The popcorn was unbuttered, and instead had a glaze sort of like a half-strength caramel corn. Was tasty, but not really what I expected.
After grabbing our snacks and making awkward eye contact with a dozen locals gawking at the strange foreigners, we headed toward our theater. On the way there, you pass through a metal detector. Because we were seeing a movie in English (with Chinese subtitles), there was a greeter addressing us in English at the theater door to give us our 3-D glasses. Seating was comfortable.
Ads? Yeah… Don’t expect typical American trailers. There were roughly 50 commercials during our 10 minute wait for the film to begin, and not one was for an upcoming film. Some ads were as short as 5 seconds. Most were either 10 seconds or 15 seconds, and I believe the longest was 20. There were 8-10 different ads for cars, another 8-10 ads for cell phones, a couple for high end watches, several ads for hospitals including a couple for plastic surgery, a few for makeup and other beauty products, and several for various video games. Roughly half the ads were brands you would commonly see in the US, and half were local companies. There wasn’t a single “trailer” for an upcoming film.
During the film, the two dozen other moviegoers were very quiet. A few laughs at appropriate times. But none of the talking back to the screen that you get in some parts of the world. Picture and sound quality were excellent. The theater is in a high end shopping mall, and there is no doubt they’ve made a significant investment in its quality.
At the very beginning of the credits, the house lights came up halfway and the cleaning crews start in. If you wait around to see a mid-credits scene or post-credits scene like you might find in most Marvel movies, there will be cleaning people reaching across you to take your trash long before you get out of your seat. They weren’t rude, and weren’t trying to kick us out, but it was clear that they are used to everyone running for the exits when the house lights come up, and they have a job to do.
All in all, roughly $17.75 for two tickets plus snacks to a 3-D showing of one of the biggest blockbusters of the year? That’s a win!
As we departed, I noticed an odd vending machine full of oranges. Sure enough, at your local cinema in Changchun you can get fresh squeezed orange juice out a machine. Where do the peels go? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have people at the concession stand just juice the oranges for you? Sadly these are questions that go unanswered. Perhaps on the next visit, The Bearded Giant will have to try some. For science, of course.