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Gwangju Theater marks its 82nd anniversary

Posted September. 14, 2017 08:15,   

Updated September. 14, 2017 08:34


“We are here for imgeom (inspection).” These words often appeared in traditional Korean novels in the 1970s. Imgeom here refers to an onsite inspection by government officials. The places where such inspection often takes place in the novel are mostly inns and bus terminals. Imgeom is effectively a thing of the past now, but there is a place you can encounter this term. It is Gwangju Theater located in Chungjang-ro, Gwangju. Marking the 82nd anniversary this year, the cinema has only one screen and 856 seats on three floors. A one-screen cinema is truly a rarity these days, given that most cinemas across the nation are multiplex movie theaters.

Since its foundation, Gwangju Theater had earned acclaims as Korea’s best grand theater. Unfortunately, however, a fire broke out in 1968 as a thief was trying to steal an electric motor there, and the cinema was almost reduced to ashes. The current cinema building was reconstructed at the time.

Its long history can be found everywhere at the theater. Movie signboards at the cinema are still drawn by a painter with 30-year experience. If you enter the cinema, you can see signboards reading "The film will start playing on schedule without advertisements. The theater has one cinema and seats are not designated.” You are expected to simply buy a ticket, enter, and take a seat of your preference. Photos, posters and signboards of movies are on display inside the theater. On the second floor, you can find two fairly large motion picture projectors, which were used in the 1950s and 1960s.

The cinema has 13 doors on first, second and third floors and an extra door right by the central entrance on the first floor, which has a sign reading "Imgeom-seok (inspection seat)." As the door is connected to the rear section of the first floor, you can look down the first floor. Back in the 1970s, student deans at middle or high schools or police officers came to the cinema to guide students on movies’ ratings, which is something unimaginable today. In fact, Imgeom-seok at Gwangju Theater dates back to the Japanese colonial rule of Korea, when Japanese police demanded theaters imgeom-seok to censor the contents of movies and plays, and to conduct surveillance on Korean people.

Scara Theater, which opened in Seoul also in 1935, disappeared for good in 2005 as the cinema building was dismantled. It is truly difficult for an 82-year movie theater to keep time-honored tradition and continue playing independent films by banking on a single screen. In this coming October, people who love Gwangju Theater will gather together and hold a film festival to comment the 82nd anniversary of its inauguration. We already have anticipation for the centennial of Gwangju Theater.