Beijing isn't short of big cinemas. Almost all big malls, like the Megabox in Sanlitun and Zhongguancun, have a multiplex with comfortable seats, huge screens and a decent range of snacks.
standard multiplex fare, however,
remains a different story. Arthouse
and 'second run' cinemas are few and far between. That said, the
city still offers some great venues
for cinephiles seeking something
beyond blockbusters at the mall.
Here are our favourites.
Best for a touch of luxury
A new vintage-style restaurant and cinema in Sanlitun, with luxury cinema screens. They focus on showing one or two great movies a week, and have appropriately-themed cocktails to boot.
Best for history buffs
Given that most cinemas here are
trying their utmost to look like sleek,
shiny cubes, it’s easy to forget that
Beijing has a history of movie-going
dating back over a century.
place that won’t let you forget it,
however, is Daguanlou. Located in
Dashilar, it was the first cinema in
China and lays claim to the disputed
title of oldest still-running cinema in
the world. What’s more, it’s also the
birthplace of Chinese film, thanks to
the enterprising original owner, Ren
Jingfeng, who produced The Battle
of Dingjunshan in 1905 in order to
Like many spots in Dashilar,
Daguanlou has now been heavily
renovated. While this does sap
some of its authentic character,
it also means that the facilities
maintain a modern standard rather
than being rundown, while an
exhibition of artefacts, including old
film projectors and posters, keeps
the historical feel intact.
Daguanlou also has some of the
best prices in town, with tickets
on the door only 45RMB for new
releases, well below what most
Best for accessible arthouse
Broadway Cinematheque Moma
When it comes to arthouse films
in Beijing, there’s basically one
place to go and that’s Broadway
Cinematheque Moma (BC Moma to
friends), northwest of Dongzhimen.
We’re not being hyperbolic when
we say that, because this cinema
is probably the only place in Beijing
that regularly screens current films
that aren’t on wide release.
for film fans, it’s a fantastic venue,
graced with a striking exterior (below) and a comfortable, spacious interior.
In addition to showing
mainstream and arthouse films
and hosting festival screenings,
Broadway Cinematheque Moma
also has a well-stocked DVD library.
If you’d rather read than watch,
Kubrick, a bookstore affiliated
with the theatre, is right next door.
Kubrick is one of the best book
shops in Beijing in its own right,
but also has a very solid selection
of film-related books in English
and Chinese. All of this means
that an afternoon at Broadway
Cinematheque Moma is a must for
any Beijing cinephile.
Best for the one percent
Orange Cinemas Club
Are you a film-loving millionaire who
likes going out to see movies but
hates having to sit anywhere in the
vicinity of the hoi polloi? Do you think
the VIP options at most upscale
cinemas are laughably mid-range?
Finally, there’s a place that
understands your needs.
At Orange Cinemas
Club in Sanlitun, the
while the top tier
however, can see
a single screening
for a mere 880RMB,
or about 10RMB per
minute of film.
For all this you get access to
three private screening rooms that
can accommodate up to 26 people,
with adequately comfortable luxury
seating and call buttons for servers
who will bring you a variety of snacks
and services while you watch.
The screening rooms and bar
are dominated by black, offset with
warm hues like orange and red,
which combine to give a vaguely
sinister air to what otherwise feels
like a sleek, swinging spaceship
lounge from a ’60s sci-fi film. It’s
a real visual contrast to private,
oak-panelled old boys’ clubs, but
certainly manages to do just as good
a job of demonstrating how much
money you have.
Best for classics
China Film Archive
It’s hard to think of a more important
place in Beijing for classic film
than the China Film Archive.
archive is the government bureau
responsible for preserving Chinese
film, and has played an admirable
role in preservation work. Luckily for
Beijingers, the China Film Archive
also has a cinema where it regularly
screens films and hosts events with
major Chinese directors.
Granted, the building looks like
a failed ’90s attempt at trendy
modern architecture, the single-screen theatre has all the charm
of an official banquet hall and the
projected films sometimes have
brief reel-changing or focus issues.
So why would anyone go? Because
it’s possibly the best place for
true cinephiles in all of Beijing. For
starters, the screen is gloriously
large and those reel-changing issues
are the result of using actual film
projection rather than digital, with
obvious benefits in terms of quality.
Then there are the films
themselves. The archive is the only
place in town to regularly screen
both Chinese and international
oldies, and boasts an eclectic
selection ranging from recent
blockbusters to decades-old
classics. Even better, you get to see
these classics on the big screen for
only 20RMB. A trip to the China Film
Archive, with its audience ranging
from earnest students to elderly
fans, will warm the heart of any
cinephile who worries that people
don’t care enough about classics.
Best for video art
There’s no popcorn to be had or
cavernous screening rooms
to sit in at Video Bureau. Instead,
this austere white
space tucked into
a courtyard in
offers a few
and DVD players.
not of traditional
films, but of video
art, showcasing works
by artists who use film or
video as a medium.
The Video Bureau is to Chinese
video art what the China Film Archive
is to film, providing an archive of
works preserved on DVD. It’s the
only gallery in Beijing dedicated to
video art, and spotlights the work
of different artists on rotation.
bureau makes clear the fantastic
variety of video art being made in
China, ranging from works that are
narratively comprehensible to purely
experimental, from bare-bones
digital video to luscious productions
shot on 16 or 35mm film.
More great alternative cinemas
Several Beijing art spaces and bars host regular film clubs.
Sunday series of Chinese classics, usually preceded by a short talk putting the film in context and followed by a discussion, is particularly worth a look for those looking for a way in to Chinese cinema while Dada's
free movie Mondays usually provides fun cult movies.
This cosy cafe-cum-cinema
hosts free film screenings most nights of the week, with an impressive selection that ranges from new releases to niche cult classics. They also have audience choice days, and two cats.
Italian Cultural Centre
Embassies and cultural centres across Beijing are another great way to see films away from the mainstream, though few have regular screenings.
Although most film lovers at the Italian Cultural Centre
are Chinese, the organisers and some attendees are definitely Mediterranean types. Subtitles might be in English or Chinese so be prepared for a multilingual minefield.
Expect to see films such as sci-fi L’ultimo Terrestre (The Last Land) or endearing romance La Vita Che Vorrei (The Life that I Would). The centre is conveniently located for a post-picture meal in Sanlitun Village.
French Cultural Centre
Both English and Chinese subtitles are shown, so don’t worry if you cannot understand the language of love. Usual selections range from classic film noir to new talents and coming-of-age films.
screens films on a theme each month that could be from bullfighting to football. This is worth knowing because Spanish language films, especially those from the Latin American world, are still rarely seen here in Beijing, even on pirated DVDs.
With fewer screenings than the French Cultural Centre, but more contemporary movies, the Instituto Cervantes dedicates itself to promoting Spanish and Latin American culture in Beijing. The famous institute sees a mixed crowd at screenings - artists, directors and authors from China and beyond. The modestly sized auditorium (90 people), makes getting there 10-15 minutes ahead of schedule a necessity.