Cinema of the Month: Shaw Theatres Jewel – Singapore

By Patrick von Sychowski | July 5, 2019 4:22 pm PDT
The Jewel at Changi Airport in Singapore

Celluloid Junkie is proud to have partnered with Vista Cinema for the Cinema of the Month series. Vista is the world’s leading cinema management software solutions company. We won’t just be featuring cinemas whose operators use Vista, but we will surely mention when that is the case. CJ would like to thank everyone at Vista for partnering with CJ to showcase some of the most interesting, innovative and inspiring cinemas from around the world. 

Who would build a multiplex at an airport, and one with an IMAX to boot? Asia’s oldest and most distinguished movie family, that’s who. It seems only appropriate that Singapore’s Changi Airport, perhaps the world’s most advanced flight hub, should get an equally cutting edge cinema complex in a setting that is quite literally breathtaking. Because motion pictures and travel go surprisingly well together.

There is a history of cinemas being built at major railway stations. Apart from being located centrally and seeing lots of traffic (literally), cinemas were a good place to kill time or even have a nap. New York’s Grand Central Station had a small Art-Moderne style newsreel theatre from 1937 to the mid-1960s, while Phoenix Theatres Union Station 9 in Washington D.C. operated until 2009. In Germany Aktualitätenkino (AKI) or Bahnhof Kino was a cinema in or near train stations with a 50-minute loop program of news, cartoons, culture and more, which existed from 1929 to 1999, gradually becoming more ‘adult’ oriented.

Airport cinemas have been more rare, but not unheard of. Lithuania opened a mini-cinema at Vilnius Airport in 2015 to showcase Lithuanian film making and landscapes. CNN even ran an article in 2013 called, “Cinemas in airports: Nice, but would you use them?” where the highlight was Hong Kong Airport’s 358-seater IMAX a 22-meter-high screen. Apparently having a cinema topped global travelers’ wish list of what they would want to see at an airport. Singapore’s Changi Airport already had two small cinemas for travelers, albeit with a modest 13 seats and 55 seats each. These were only a warm-up act for what would come with the Jewel.

The Jewel of International Travel
The tiny South East Asian island state of Singapore has long been a major airline hub for AustralAsia. Changi Airport has consistently been voted “Best Airport in the World”  by Skytrax for the last seven years. It does this by constantly improving and growing. Eighteen months ago it opened Terminal 4 while having already started work on Terminal 5. But between 4 and 5 came The Jewel. Situated at the site of the old car park between Terminals 1, 2 and 3 the term ‘mixed use development’ doesn’t do it justice. It is more like an “Avatar” theme park arrived from the future.

The Jewel itself looks like a giant crystal donut spaceship that has landed between the terminals. The shape is because at the centre of the Jewel is the world’s largest indoor waterfall; the HSBC Rain Vortex that falls 40 meters in the middle, situated inside the Shiseido Forest Valley. You can pick up your bags from the belt in the arrival hall in Terminal 1, walk through customs and stand in front of the waterfall in less than 60 seconds. Seeing it in photos does not prepare you for the breathtaking spectacle of hearing, smelling, feeling and seeing it all.

Visitors to Singapore will have been prepared for this if they had visited the two domes at the Gardens by the Bay, but the Jewel’s design also borrows influences from the light show at Marina Bay Sands, the Fountain of Wealth at SunTec City and the green-fringed shopping extravaganza that is Orchard Road. The Instagrammable waterfall may be at the centre of the Jewel but at its heart lies shopping, eating and entertainment, located in the circles around its edge and spread across several floors. Everything from Hugo Boss and Moschino to supermarket Fair Price and eateries and coffee places make this a destination not just for global travelers but for local Singaporeans too. There’s A&W, A-One Signature, AC Kafe, Aloha Poke, An Acai Affair, Andersen’s of Denmark, Arteastiq Bistro and Auntie Anne’s – and that’s just the dine-in options beginning with ‘A’, many of them open 24-hours per day.

Shaw Theatres
No Singaporean mall would be complete without a multiplex as an anchor tenant and deep down in the basement of the Jewel you will find Shaw Theatres. Shaw is to Asia what Warner is to Hollywood; a family of brothers who built a film empire that became a by-word for cinema. In 1976 Time magazine described Shaw Brothers thus:

Shaw Brothers’ films, produced at Shaw’s Movietown, shot in Shawscope color and shown in 143 Shaw-owned theaters, attract 250,000 people a day from Hong Kong to Jakarta, plus thousands more in Chinatowns around the world. Shaw Brothers grind out 40 titles a year (newest crop: Black Magic, Killer Clans, Five Shaolin Masters)?a sort of column A, column B menu of Oriental weepers with suicidal beauties, or Eastern Westerns featuring Kung Fu Mandarins.

Perhaps most famously Shaw Brothers popularised the kung fu film genre in the West, starting with “Five Fingers of Death”. At one point Quentin Tarantino watched at least watching one Shaw Bros. film per day. The most famous of the six Shaw brothers was the youngest, Sir Run Run Shaw, lived to the age of 106 and is thought to have produced over a thousand films. Yet by the time of his death in 2014 Shaw Brothers Studios was like Hong Kong, where it was based – no longer the mighty empire it once was. Still, it lives on to this day and the youngest son’s descendants still run the different parts of the somewhat shrunken empire, including Shaw Theatres, which is one of the three major cinema operators in Singapore, together with Golden Village and Carthay.

Shaw Theatres – The Jewel
The multiplex at the Jewel is not particularly well signposted or advertised. Most transit passengers probably only stop to take a picture of the waterfall and perhaps grab a bite and impulse purchase, not realising that there is a multiplex underneath their feet. You have to travel to B2 (basement 2 – though most of the multiplex is situated in what would be B3) and then walk to one of the corners, or rather the periphery of the circle, to find it. But it is a walk well worth making because, while small, the cinema has perfection, charm and several notable firsts.

As you come down the escalators the first thing you notice is the giant LED screens playing trailers, posters and promotions. Off to the left is the counter with concessions as well as self-serve ticketing, with two screens behind it, while the other 11 screens are located on the right. In the hall leading to the majority of the screens there is a wall with the history of the Shaw organisation, as well as an old 35mm projector, installed for display purposes. Needless to say, there is not even a projection booth in this futuristic multiplex.

I get taken around by the friendly duty manager, clearly proud to show off the mini-multiplex, which had only been open for just over a month (its opening was 17 April). The first stop of the tour was the IMAX, which is the first “IMAX’s next-generation hall featuring IMAX with Laser” in Singapore. It could most politely be described as a baby-IMAX, but anyone wanting the full IMAX experience can get it at the Shaw Lido IMAX cinema on Orchard Road. This is after all a multiplex built underneath an old airport car park. But the somewhat compact screen allows for a bright image and pleasingly vivid 3D films (“Detective Pikachu” was playing when I visited).

When the Shaw Theatre Jewel opened, Mark Shaw, Director of the Shaw Organisation Group of Companies, said: “We are staying true to our commitment to bring our patrons the best cinema experience. When we open a new cineplex or update an existing location, we aim to deliver class leading levels of comfort and technology. Our latest IMAX theatre at Shaw Theatres Jewel is equipped with IMAX’s next-generation laser projection system and immersive sound technology that will deliver the best experience possible. At present, there are less than 15 such theatres around the world!” So it is still a very unique experience.

Next stop were the two Lumiere auditoriums, Shaw’s new exclusive premium movie-going option with fully electric recliners that can recline 42 degrees and each have USB charging sockets. It might lack the hot food table service of GV’s Gold Class but the concessions counter is well stocked and it is not far to go. Significantly there is also wheelchair access in all screens, which is not a given in Singapore. These are also the first DTS:X capable cinema auditoriums in Singapore; a treat for a screen that only has 26 seats.

The other auditoriums have between 40-ish to 70-ish seats each. Of these the most notable was “Dreamers,” billed as the first dedicated family cinema hall in Singapore with bean bags and play areas for young ones. It was also the only occupied screen when I came to visit, though I don’t expect many patrons in any multiplex on a weekday morning. The whole of the Jewel was much busier when I returned the following Sunday evening and I suspect so to was the Shaw. It also fits well with Shaw’s monthly “Movies With The Little Ones” programme “catering to families with young children or just the young at heart.”

At the time when Shaw Theatres Jewel opened, Mark Shaw was quoted in the Straits Times as saying that the cinema is “the culmination of everything I have learnt.” When his forefathers Run Run and Runme Shaw first arrived in Singapore in 1926 from Shanghai to start a film production, distribution and cinema business they couldn’t even have imagined that there would be a world-class cinema in this part of the island – because like 25% of the city state it is built on land reclaimed from the sea.

A Flying Visit
Singapore has both a rich cinema legacy and cinema-going culture. It has one of the highest average attendances anywhere in the world, with more than four visits per inhabitant per year. As such it is not surprising that Singaporean’s are spoilt for choice both in terms of cinemas and content, be it Hollywood, Indian, Chinese or even arthouse and independent films thanks to The Projector – our previous Cinema of the Month in Singapore.

The Jewel at Changi Airport in Singapore
Besides the waterfall, they Jewel at Singapore’s Changi Airport features eating and entertainment, located in the circles around its edge and spread across several floors. (Photo: Patrick von Sychowski – Celluloid Junkie)

Yet Singaporeans are no less addicted to their smartphones and streaming services than people elsewhere, as well as being even more spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping, eating and drinking. The tiny country’s cinema operators thus have to keep striving and innovating, with Shaw Theatres at the Jewel only the latest example. Golden Village will soon open its new multiplex in the Funan Mall, described as an “on-line and off-line mall” with facial recognition at its entry (“Very Singapore-lah!”):

Yet now international travelers changing planes on their journey from London to Auckland don’t have to leave the airport to experience a bit of Singapore’s cinema history and future. It would be a shame if they only went into the mall to take pictures of the waterfall, because for all its compact size, the multiplex at the Jewel at Changi Airport is a much, much better film experience than even the best in-flight entertainment system, the films are newer and the popcorn is fresh. So next time you fly to or via Singapore, be sure to visit this small jewel of a multiplex hidden beneath a magic waterfall.

Celluloid Junkie selects the CJ Cinema of the Month based on our own independent survey. We always pay for our own tickets, pulled pork burger, popcorn and Coke, and visit the cinema in a ‘mystery patron’ capacity in most cases. Whenever possible we take our own photographs of a cinema in lieu of corporate stock photos. Thus, sometimes you get authenticity at the expense of focus. Our impressions may be subjective, but we always try to be fair and factually accurate in everything being presented about one of the cinemas we have chosen.

Patrick von Sychowski
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