Going back to the movies at Rex

Going back to the movies at Rex
Rex Cinemas, which opened in 2009, is the latest incarnation of the 69-year-old building that began life as Rex theatres, which lasted from 1946 to 1983.

SINGAPORE - It started in 1946 as a cinema screening films of all languages and genres, but the iconic Rex theatres in MacKenzie Road closed its doors in 1983 after business dipped.

It was then home to an ice-skating rink, a church, even a disco. The 69-year-old building underwent a major makeover in 2009 and returned to its roots as a movie venue.

Calvin Yang checks out the latest at Rex.

For a venue that shows up-to-date movies from India such as Tamil action romp Aambala, the iconic Rex theatres appears trapped in the days of Singapore's pre-independence.

Despite the occasional paint job to rejuvenate its grubby walls, it still has its art deco facade it has worn since 1946, when it first thrilled audiences with films of all genres and languages.

The building in MacKenzie Road in Rochor, is a hive of activity, going through several different uses after the place first closed in 1983.

It came full circle in 2009, when it returned as Rex Cinemas, which screens mainly Tamil and Hindi movies.

Today, it is the only stand-alone cinema here.

"This building has a rich history. It is a pity that more cinemas are moving to shopping malls," said Rex Cinemas director Senthil Kumar, 31.

The three-storey building was abandoned in 2007 after its last tenant, an Indian nightclub, moved out. Two years later, Mr Kumar and his father, Mr Narayanasamy Muthu, 67, who runs a few businesses including jewellery chain Kamala Jewellers, chipped in nearly $2 million to revive the building.

It underwent an interior makeover, which included adding two smaller halls upstairs. The main hall on the ground floor has 570 seats, while the other two can accommodate 82 patrons each.

"There was nothing when we took over. We had to bring in the screens and the seats," said Mr Kumar.

The cinema, near Little India, plugs a gap, he said. "There are not many places to go to watch a Tamil or Hindi movie."

The original Rex theatres, started by Shaw Brothers, opened in 1946 with a screening of The Jungle Book. As videotape piracy became rampant, business dipped and it closed in 1983. The last movie shown was Jaws 3-D.

The building then became home to vastly different crowds. It was a popular ice-skating rink with a snack bar, a temporary church and a disco with state-of-the-art equipment.

In 1999, it was where Foochow Methodist Church held its services, after its building in Race Course Road was found to be unsafe due to tunnelling works for an MRT line. The church moved back to its premises a year later.

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