Watching a new Harry Potter film in Shanghai is as exciting as watching it back home.Though I can turn into a coach potato after a long day at work, nothing gets me off the sofa and out the door quicker than the promise of a good movie. Wherever I moved in the last few years, be it Austria, the United States, or most recently China, the movie theaters were always the first thing I could point out on the city map of my new town. Upon hearing that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows-Part One was about to hit Shanghai theaters, I knew I had to see the show.
Among the many theater options in Shanghai, I chose to see the film at the Stellar Cinema City in Pudong. I expected the viewing experience to be similar to past movie-going experiences in China, which usually involved slightly shabby theaters with a charming mixture of chaos and noise in the audience. But globalization has reached movie theaters in Asia, and entering Stellar Cinema City made me quickly forget I was in China. The theater was modern and sleek with Egyptian themed decor and US food concession stands such as Häagen-Dazs.
Since it was the film’s opening day in China, my first challenge was to secure a ticket, which proved no easy feat. Harry Potter is as popular in China as in the rest of the world. And despite the fact that Stellar Cinema City projected the film in a huge IMAX screening room with 400 seats and in a standard screening room with 15 showings a day from 9:55 am to 11:30 pm, the tickets were almost sold out when I arrived. Luckily, I was able to score one of the few remaining tickets for the regular screening hall. The ticket price (¥70 [$10.50]) was shocking, even though it was much cheaper than the IMAX film tickets (¥150 [$22.50]). Such prices make a visit to the movies a luxury, if not an impossibility, for many Chinese.
The food concession stands in the entrance hall were not aimed at the budget conscious either. With Chinese food nowhere in sight, the smallest soft drink and popcorn combo was ¥45 ($6.75) and the cheapest scoop of ice cream at the Häagen-Dazs counter cost an uninviting ¥28 ($4). Despite the hall teaming with excited movie goers, I didn’t see anyone buy food from the concessions.
The crowd was diverse—with kids in school uniforms, teenagers, families, middle-aged and older fans, and even a few businessmen with laptop bags strapped across their shoulders. The Shanghai audience proved that Hogwarts has a universal pull that transcends age and gender lines. I was one of the only foreigners at the showing, however.
While settling deep into my plush seat and enjoying the opening minutes of the movie, I was happily reminded of my cultural whereabouts when all around me families and groups of friends opened big plastic bags full of store-bought or home-made goodies—searching the bag contents with small flashlights in the dark, discussing their options, and munching away blissfully.
Though watching a movie is a silent business in most countries, it is a chatty experience in China. All around, people were talking to each other or on their cell phones, with new visitors constantly arriving, even as late as half an hour into the movie. Given all the food, talking, and general coming and going, the screening resembled a giant family picnic in the park.
The film was shown in English with Chinese subtitles, and I was reminded of the fact that I may have been the only foreigner in the theater when the audience inexplicably burst out laughing at odd times, but remained silent or even distracted during scenes I found hilarious or absorbing. A taste for movies might be global, but cultural perception is anything but. Still, Harry Potter captured the audience, and once the stomachs were filled and the cell phones switched off, all eyes were glued to the screen.
After the movie ended and people poured out of the theater, I asked a group of children what they thought of the movie. In broken English, they eagerly told me they loved it, but hated that they now had to wait for the second part. Impatience, like Harry Potter, is a global phenomenon.
[author] Bianca Potrykus ([email protected]) is a German teacher at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. [/author]