Shanghai Grand Cinema: Home of the Art House Scene

Shanghai Grand Cinema: Home of the Art House Scene
By Andrea Scarlatelli ,

China is a hard place in which to have an independent art house scene. With only 20 foreign films allowed in theatres per year, a lot of truly artistic films are relegated to the shelves of your local DVD store. There is, however, a growing movement to recognize and appreciate the enormous talents of the little-known actors and directors of such films. While there are places here and there (such as Cinema of Truth or Image Tunnel) that show classic and independent movies, you shouldn’t overlook what’s playing at Shanghai’s oldest movie theatre, the Grand Cinema. While mainstream movies are certainly available here, you’ll find a surprisingly good collection of fringe films not normally found in the city’s major movie theatres.

Shanghai Grand Cinema (photo:

Designed and built in 1928 by the Hungarian architect Lásló Hudec, the Grand Cinema has undergone years of renovations to make it spiffy for – you guessed it – the upcoming Expo. Even if you’re not an architecture buff, it’s easy to appreciate the classic building styles of the 1930s that are prevalent throughout. Previously called the “Best Cinema of the Far East” by visiting Westerners, it is now listed as a historical site by the Shanghai government.

Combining the decadence and style of the 1930s with the comfort and technology of modern times was not an easy feat, but the Grand Cinema has managed to pull it off. The theatre seats 1,554 people on the main floor, while the third floor has a small 25-seat lounge with leather chairs for those who like to watch their movies a little more comfortably. All of the screens include the now-mandatory Dolby digital sound systems. But don’t worry – not all of the cinema’s charm has been modernized. The lotus-shaped roof that helped make the place famous is still present, as is the old-fashioned two-tiered seating arrangement and the imported Italian marble. It was this kind of detail, including a massive crystal chandelier, that helped make the Grand Cinema such a symbol of luxury during the 1930s and ‘40s.

The theatre proved to be first in many categories back in its heyday. Not only was it the first in China to introduce the widescreen format and stereo systems, but it also installed mini earpieces of all of its chairs for Chinese customers who wanted to watch Western movies. Before the popularisation of dubbing and onscreen subtitles, a translator would interpret the dialogue throughout the movie so the Chinese audience could appreciate what was going on. Now that’s customer service!

Never one to miss the opportunity for a museum or exhibition hall, the Grand Cinema now dedicates a floor to its collection of historic photos that trace its illustrious past. Get there early to enjoy a self-guided walking tour featuring photos, timelines, and classic flyers and billboards. One of the coolest parts is the antique projector they used to use – it proves how far we’ve come!

For those who prefer to make their trip to the cinema in Shanghai an all-day event, there is a restaurant and lounge bar located on the third floor. The restaurant and lounge, which cover a total of 1,000 square metres, mimic the ritzy Art Deco style of the original theatre. The best part of it, though, is the outdoor garden area for guests. Warmer weather is the perfect time to sit and take in the view of People’s Square from up high.

The Grand Cinema 大光明电影院View In Map
Add: 216 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xinchang Lu, Shanghai
上海南京西路216号近新昌路, 地铁1, 2, 8号线人民广场站
Tel: 021 6327 339, 6327 4260
Getting there: Metro Line 1, 2 8 to Renmin Guangchang Stop

Cinema of Truth 真实影院View In Map
Add: Rm. 411, Bldg 11, 696 Weihai Lu, near Maoming Beilu, Shanghai
上海威海路696号11号楼411室 近茂名北路
Tel: 021 6255 2600
Getting there: Metro Line 2 to Nanjing Xilu Stop, Exit 4

Image TunnelView In Map
Add: 2/F, Bldg 19, 50 Moganshan Lu, near Nan Suzhouhe Lu, Shanghai
Tel: 159 2101 9461 or 6277 8270
Getting there: Take Line 3 or 4 and get off at Zhongtan Road stop. Walk along Changhua Road to Moganshan Road. Walk along the wall of graffiti and you’ll see M50. 

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