Daguanlou on Dashilan is China’s oldest cinema, and well worth a visit.
Though films were first shown in Shanghai in 1896, Daguanlou became the first cinema in 1902 when forward-thinking entrepreneur and filmmaker Ren Qingtai bought the building, having purchased a French-made motion picture camera in Japan.
The exhibit claims that there was no Chinese word for film at the time, so the word dianying [electric shadow] was born at the cinema. Nowadays, most of the films are in Chinese only, but it’sfun even if your Mandarin isn’t up to scratch.
We’d recommend the rarefied ‘Chinese Film Gallery I’ on the ground floor – unlike the relatively modern cinemas upstairs, this one is basically a classic grey brick-walled room filled with Qing dynasty-style tables and 40 chairs.
Old film stills line the walls, and an old-style projector beams through the darkness in the way that oldschool projectors should.
As you’re watching, you can drink beer (5RMB Tsingtaos or 15RMB Coronas) or snack on jam sandwiches (15RMB) and popcorn (8RMB).
This is what going to the cinema should be like, and even Transporter 3 in Chinese (our Mandarin is ‘functional’, but it was probably a blessing) couldn’t spoil the pleasure of being there. Toby Skinner