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This is serious. The newspapers recently reported that cinema attendance has dwindled by almost six million admissions in the last decade!

Where have all the Singaporeans gone? Aren't we the number one cinema-goers in the world? Reportedly, multiplexes are no longer in vogue. The big screen is losing its allure not only to pirated VCDs, but to a whole gamut of other distractions, like cable TV, Internet, cyber-cafes, LAN gaming centres... even the pubs and the coffee club culture were blamed.

Wait a minute, I thought kopitiams had been around since time immemorial. But I'm digressing. The point is Singaporeans now have a lot more ways to spend their $8 (or $5 for a weekday entrance) than to go to the movies. This is not necessarily bad. After all, we've always been complaining that there's nothing to do here except to go to the cinema. Now I'm getting into knots...

Whatever it is, the reason for this piece is to celebrate our beloved irreplaceable silver screen and here are 10 reasons why we should muster all our kiasu energies to keep up our excellent cinema-going tradition:


There is nothing like the mega screen to catch epic films like "Star Wars", "Dances with the Wolves" and "Titanic". The looming proportions of everything, accompanied by today's super duper sound systems, promise a unique sensation which the humble gogglebox can never match. Case in point: Would the much-featured bathtub in "What Lies Beneath" look so ominous and sinister in a 14-inch frame?!


The best place to pop popcorn (in the old days, kacang puteh) is undoubtedly in a movie house. Today, any respectable multiplex has armrests with ring holders for those too lazy to hold their popcorn cups.


Which dating couple in Singapore has not gone to a show together? The "un-nameables" in the dark shall remain unnamed. Suffice to say, savvy cinema operators are pampering this segment of the audience with coyly-named "lovers' seats".


Speaking of pitch darkness, the ambience is perfect for those who want to catch a quick snooze. Coupled with cool aircon comfort, the plush seats are so comfortable these days I would be hard put to stay awake at a mundane show. Strictly for non-snorers.


The cinema is educational. And I'm not just talking about shows like "Shakespeare in Love" to get students to read their literature books. Those who miss their hokkien classes in National Service can get remedial classes at no extra charge from Taiwan-dubbed Hong Kong movies.


I suspect the phrase "larger than life" evolved from the big screen. Literally and figuratively, matinee idols have never looked so good than when they are up there. Think Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman", Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic", and closer to home, Ling Ching Hsia in "Swordsman II", Chow Yun Fatt in "A Better Tomorrow" and Jet Li in the "Once Upon A Time in China" series. The "swoon" factor is in direct proportion with the size of the screen hero or heroine, where the close-up is such that a pimple would look like a balloon.


Experience the cutting-edge (and I would add, "cutting-front", "cutting-middle") skills of our "acclaimed" films censorship board, which is more adept at confusing the audience than Wong Kar Wai's avant garde Chungking Express-style jerk movements. From homosexual kissing scenes in "The Wedding Banquet" to just before the punchlines in "Mickey Blue Eyes", the impeccable timing of the Board's snips truly deserves an Oscar for "Best Editing".


Next to soccer matches, the cinema is a great spectator activity. What better way to watch a horror movie than in a hall filled with 500 other people? There is safety in numbers. Nobody will ever know if you've screamed your head off since everybody else would be simultaneously screeching or keeping their eyes clutch tight. And when it comes to tearjerkers, there is shared comfort too. You won't need to feel embarrassed as the only one coming out of a "Joy Luck Club" run, doing the dust-in-the-eye trick while pretending to shield your red eyes and discreetly dabbing the kleenex on your, ahem, sinus-inflicted nose.


Given our time-pressed schedules, sneaking a meal into the picture house is one act which is probably committed by every cinema-goer at one time or another. After all, that hocus pocus excuse on dirtying the premises can't hold water (no pun intended) when "authorised" popcorn and drinks are allowed. In our rule-ridden society, there is almost a thrill in breaking a little harmless rule once in a while.


Most importantly, national pride is at stake here. Hey, if we don't keep this up, we could (gasp!) lose our No.1 ranking as the most avid cinema-goers in the world!


Ong Hwee Yen 2000

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