An Iconic Cinema In KL That Burned Down Is Being Turned Into A Creative Space For Events

It was once owned by Golden Communications (now GSC).

Cover image via Chinatown/Steve Bristow & Edwin Lee

A few decades ago, watching movies in the cinema was quite a different experience from what it is now

Back then, hand-painted posters would display the latest shows, and ticket prices started from RM0.40 - RM0.50 (for a cheap matinee) up to RM 2.20 (for first-class seats).

Image via Darthvadai

If you were late to the cinema, someone would flash a torchlight to guide you to your seat, as you walked on floors covered with kuaci shells and scurrying rats.

One of the most iconic and largest theatres that existed in Malaysia was known as Rex Theatre, which was located in Chinatown, Jalan Sultan (now Petaling Street)

The original Rex Theatre burned down during the 1970s and a new single screen 1,100-seat theater owned by Golden Communications (now Golden Screen Cinemas or GSC) took its place in 1976.

Later in 1993, Rex Theatre became the first cinema in Malaysia to have a digital sound processor system, with the release of 'Jurassic Park'.

Rex continued to 'reign' among the few remaining classic cinemas in Malaysia for 25 years before it ceased operations on 15 November 2002.

It was then turned into a backpackers hostel in 2007.

Rex Theatre located in Chinatown was converted into a budget hostel called Hotel Red Dragon.

Image via Visit-Malaysia

Unfortunately, in August that year, a fire broke out again at the cinema-turned-hostel, as about 50 backpackers were resting in the building

According to a report by The Star, no one was injured in the fire. However, the three-storey structure was damaged as firemen spent an hour and a half to put out the blaze.

Architect Shin Tseng shared that over the years, the building was used as low-cost housing, and even an entertainment karaoke outlet for a short period of time.

"The cinema hall was left in disuse therefore it became a hotbed of drug users and squatters," he told SAYS.

Image via @omega6jin

Wanting to revive the nostalgic theatre, a project was set up late last year to turn Rex into a creative space where local entrepreneurs and artistes could flourish

"It will have space for events, screenings, performances, exhibitions, retail and F&B outlets," co-founder Shin Tseng told SAYS.

Rex KL's revamp is spearheaded by Tseng and architect Shin Chang, while its advisors are renowned Malaysian architect Ng Sek San, creative director Joseph Foo, and supported by architect Kamil Merican.

Image via @shin.tseng

"We are approaching the refurbishment of the building thoughtfully and in respect to its original built and intention.

"Most of the work that we will do, involves making good of its amenities, returning the building's functionality, putting in fittings, and creating new pockets of community spaces within Rex KL," said Tseng.

On 18 January, Rex KL finally opened its doors to the public with pop-up stores, food stalls, bars, a farmer's market, live acts, and workshops

The REXKL Flower Market 2019 attracted a diverse group of visitors as people were excited to see the 60,000-square foot cinema brought back to life.

"[Who] would've thought that this once-forgotten space would see so much life again?" asked Tseng, who added that the team hopes to demonstrate the power of community with its recent pop-up event.

Image via @shin.tseng
Image via The Bubble Lab

At the moment, the community-led cultural space is continuing to be improved on – with the goal that it will carry on being a place where independent businesses, local artistes, and entrepreneurs can come together to work, grow, trade, and learn.

If you want to check it out for yourself, REXKL Flower Market 2019 is currently happening on these following weekends:

  • 18 - 20 January (ended)
  • 25 - 27 January, and
  • 1 - 3 February
Opening hours: 3pm - 12am.

Some of the stores at the event are WonderBrew, Kombucha, Dao, My Boba Lab, Pantun Pins, Happy Fluff, and many more.

You can follow their Facebook or Instagram for future events.

Here's how to get there:

Image via REXKL

Aside from watching movies at Rex, you might recall getting groceries at these 'old' supermarkets that used to exist in Malaysia:

Or swimming at these now-abandoned theme parks:

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