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Thread: Great Star Theater, Chinatown, San Francisco

  1. #1
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    Rising Star

    I spent my teen years in the Great Star. I always have a pang of nostalgia when I walk past it. This is where I saw most of the great Shaw Brothers films and the last '70s Jackie Chan films like Snake in Eagle's Shadow.
    Great Star theater preparing to rise again
    Sam Whiting, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Adam Lau / Special to The Chronicle

    The Great Star movie theater has been dark for 12 years and would be dark still if George Kaskanlian Jr. hadn't gotten into a fight with his girlfriend.

    Walking it off, Kaskanlian passed from North Beach into Chinatown. Midblock in the mishmash of Jackson Street, he came upon a roll-up security gate blocking a theater foyer. His mind was instantly off his relationship troubles. Kaskanlian, a real estate refurbisher, could see the possibilities, though it took him a month just to track down the owner of the building and get a tour.

    "It was dark and moldy," he says. "The fabric on the walls was stained and ripped up. The seats were filthy. The bathrooms looked like a scene from a horror movie. The projection room was filled with cobwebs and dust."

    Thus it was perfect as a venue for "Another Hole in the Head," Kaskanlian's enticingly named film festival that he runs as an offshoot of SF Indie Fest. Kaskanlian, 35, and business partner Ken Montero, 36, got a 10-year lease and it has taken the first year just to clean the place, which seats 540. Next, they are taking on the 1950s-era Christie projectors with Xenolite lamps.

    "The goal is to revitalize it and to do local community Chinese events and bring in concerts and film festivals," says Montero, who, like Kaskanlian, grew up in San Francisco but has no previous connection to Chinese culture.

    "I never hung out in Chinatown once," Montero says. As such they had no idea that the musty old Great Star may be the last of its kind in America - a Chinatown theater that shows both Chinese-language films and Chinese opera.

    There ought to be a documentary about that, and coincidentally a documentary that features the Great Star will receive its North American premiere Saturday at the Asian American International Film Festival. But it is not a documentary about Kaskanlian and Montero and doesn't even mention their heroics.

    "A Moment in Time" is about the tradition of Chinese movies and their effect on the population of San Francisco's Chinatown. The one-hour film is by the husband-and- wife team of Ruby Yang and Lambert Yam, who were both born in Hong Kong and came to America to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where they met in the 1970s. At that time, there were half a dozen theaters in Chinatown showing filmed opera and action. Anyone who frequented the Great Star wouldn't forget the experience.

    "That place was run by gangs and very dirty, but they were showing some good films there," says Yang, who turned out to make some good films of her own. Four years ago, a short documentary she directed, "The Blood of Yingzhou District." won an Academy Award in the short-subject category.

    In 2003, Yang and Yam started working on a film about the Chinese movie theaters that had by then closed down and been converted to shopping malls. But the Great Star is still there. Yang and Yam rented it for a screening of "The Legend of the Purple Hairpin." They invited customers Yam had known from managing both the Great Star and the World Theater, and filmed the old Chinatown crowd watching the film.

    This was before Kaskanlian and Montero took over and cleaned the place, a development that Yang had not heard about when reached by telephone. For five years, Yang and Yam have lived in Beijing, but they both keep their 415 area codes on their cell phones, as if they will be back any day now.

    As it is, they are here for the premiere of their film, which would have been a perfect time to premiere the Great Star under new management. That way the audience could watch a film at the Great Star that includes scenes of the people watching a film at the Great Star.

    It would have been the most site-specific premiere since they screened "The Rock" on Alcatraz 15 years ago. "We tried to work it out, and they tried to work it out," Montero says. "We just couldn't pull it all together."

    Too bad, because there is no other way to convey the deprivations involved in watching a film here. Though built in the 1920s, the era of the great movie palaces, there is nothing palatial about the Great Star. All four sides are concrete and when empty the place is cold and dank.

    Whatever warmth there is must be created by the bodies in the seats, sitting shoulder to shoulder. That's how it was heated Sunday for a five-hour Chinese opera put on by an independent promoter. These stage events, which have happened sporadically through the dark years, will bolster the film program, which they expect to be underway by June (www.greatstartheatre .com.)

    Kaskanlian was able to save the Great Star but unable to save the girlfriend. "We're done," he says with a laugh. "She dumped me."

    A Moment in Time: 7 p.m. Sat., 6 p.m. Tues. at the Kabuki. The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs through March 21. (415) 865-1588. www.asian americanmedia.org.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
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    Playing in SF Chinatown tomorrow & Friday



    Big Trouble in Little China - (A)LIVE - Movie, Mayhem & More in San Francisco - May 19-20 2016 7:00PM

    Tickets available here.

    The Great Star Theater's website is lacking.

    I would love to go to this just to see a Kung Fu flick in the Great Star again, but I've got this previous engagement...
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  3. #3
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    Great Star flashback!

    Martial arts films at Great Star
    By G. Allen Johnson Published 2:36 pm, Tuesday, June 28, 2016


    Bruce Lee’s final film, “Enter the Dragon,” screens at his old hangout, the Great Star Theater in Chinatown. Photo: AP

    (Not Just) Hong Kong Action Film Series: This could be the awesomest film festival of the summer. For the month of July, Chinatown’s 91-year-old Great Star Theater is open for business, once again serving up old school bone-crunching martial arts action courtesy of the folks at IndieFest.
    So drop into the neighborhood for dim sum, then get some: There’s plenty of Jackie Chan and Jet Li on display in these 21 films.
    But the Great Star meant the most by far to one particular star in this series, Bruce Lee — represented by the great “Enter the Dragon” (July 9 and 16). Lee was born at the Chinese Hospital in Chinatown, and his parents acted in Chinese opera productions at the Great Star (young Bruce would sleep in the back). Later, despite his groundbreaking role as Kato on the ABC television series “The Green Hornet,” Lee had to go to Hong Kong to start a movie career. Back in San Francisco, the Great Star played new Hong Kong movies the same week they were released in China, including Lee’s films.
    The series opens Friday, July 1, with Jackie Chan in “The Legend of Drunken Master” (7 p.m.) and “Ip Man” (9 p.m.), the 2010 kick starter to Donnie Yen’s great modern series.
    Other highlights: “Death Machines” (9 p.m. Saturday, July 2, and July 24), a 1976 actioner in which a dragon lady (Japan’s Mari Honjo) unleashes a multicultural zombie assassin team; “Zu Warriors” (July 9 and 29), Tsui Hark’s thrilling and underrated 2001 remake of his own 1983 original; and “Return of the Street Fighter” (July 24 and 31), the second installment of the 1970s Japanese series starring Sonny Chiba.
    Man, I hope I can make it up to SF for one of these. Seeing a Kung Fu flick in that revered old house would bring back so many memories...
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  4. #4
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    Rebirth of the Great Star Theater

    Like I said earlier, this theater is very dear to me. It was here where I first saw Jackie Chan on the big screen, along with countless Shaw Brother films.

    大明星 Great Star Theater



    The Great Star Theater is magic.

    Built in 1925, the theater boasts an exceptional program of live performances and an immersive environment harkening back to the golden age of live theater.

    Now under new management, we are embarking on a series of improvements to enhance the audience experience as well as bringing in an exciting program of unique entertainments.

    We are a community based theater. We are supported by the community and most of our performances are created by local producers.
    I poached the posts above from the S.F. Chinatown Theaters & Big Trouble in Little China threads. I'm hoping that this theater rises again and will do what I can to support it.

    They are doing events like this one below - I just gotta support that.

    NINJA BUSTERS: First SF Screening & Panel Discussion with
    Cast/Crew of Lost 1984 Martial Arts Film, Found After 30 Years!



    First San Francisco screening: NINJA BUSTERS
    Lost film, found in the Mohave desert after 30 years!
    This lost Martial Arts exploitation cult comedy NINJA BUSTERS will finally be shown to the public for two screenings at the Great Star Theatre at 636 Jackson Street, San Francisco on Saturday afternoon, October 29, 2016.
    Watch two buddies, Chic and Bernie (Eric Lee and Sid Campbell) in their pursuit of trying to meet women by learning martial arts as they run into a gang of Ninjas and arms dealers who force them to use their newly-learned art of self defense to stay alive.
    In December of 2012, film collector Harry Guerro, of Exhumed Films and Garage House Pictures, found the 35mm Panavision print of Ninja Busters in a “hell-hole of a storage room” in the Mojave desert along with 200 other movies, many of them had rusted right through their metal cans. The print of Ninja Busters was in perfect condition.
    Roger Glenn, Ninja Busters' editor and assistant director, will now host two screenings at 1:00 and 4:00 pm with a panel discussion after the first screening at 2:30 pm. The star of Ninja Busters, Eric Lee, and the film's director, Paul Kyriazi, and producer, Carlos Navarro will be in attendance as well as many of the lead actors and crew who were involved in the production, to talk about how they made this movie in 1984 and how and why it disappeared.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  5. #5
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    Reopening the Great Star

    I must revisit soon.
    LOCAL
    //
    HEATHER KNIGHT
    Reopening Chinatown's Great Star Theater is a gamble for this couple. It could pay off for them and community

    Photo of Heather Knight
    Heather Knight
    June 9, 2021
    Updated: June 9, 2021 4 a.m.

    Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it. Photos by Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

    San Francisco’s small businesses suffered greatly over the past 15 months. So did nonprofits. So did performing arts venues. So did movie theaters. So did Chinatown.

    So it might seem like the worst possible time to start a new venture that combines all of those into one hugely risky gamble, but Alice Chu and Roger Pincombe are betting big. And here’s hoping their efforts pay off.

    This month, the married couple, who live in an apartment in Twin Peaks and work as software engineers for Salesforce, will reopen the Great Star Theater on Jackson Street after signing a 10-year lease. They’ve formed a nonprofit called, fittingly, the Great Star Theater, and have sunk $150,000 of their own money and donations into the massive project of restoring the theater to its former glory.

    They’ll have a soft opening this weekend and plan to hold an official launch complete with lion dancers in the street on June 18.

    “We’re excited to open and put people back to work and start that community back up,” Pincombe, 33, said of giving the city another venue for live arts groups that lost nearly all their revenue during the pandemic. “There’s always something up in the air, but it always comes together so beautifully.”

    Pincombe’s face lights up when he talks about the theater, and his goal is to make it his full-time work. Chu, 31, who moved from China’s Henan province 10 years ago to obtain her master’s degree in computer science at the University of Southern California, seems to be the practical one and said she’s definitely staying at Salesforce.

    “Slow down! Slow down!” she kept telling her husband as he chattered excitedly while giving me a tour of the theater the other day. “She isn’t done writing!”

    They showed off the new red upholstery on the theater’s 410 seats after the droppings from birds nesting overhead proved disastrous to the previous seat covers. They showed off lovely bathrooms with touchless faucets and art and calligraphy made in China by Chu’s parents hanging on the walls.

    They showed off a huge, used movie screen they installed. Eighty-five new fire sprinklers they added since the old ones were 50 years out-of-date in terms of code compliance. A traditional Chinese altar where actors can pray before going on stage. A downstairs lounge for actors that’s decorated with a mural painted by Chu.

    “We’re honoring the history of the theater, but also making it cleaner and more comfortable,” Pincombe said. “If you could have seen what this place looked like in November when we took over. There have been a lot of last-minute headaches.”

    The theater opened in 1925 as a venue for Chinese opera singers, and Pincombe said Bruce Lee spent time there as a kid watching his dad, Lee Hoi-chuen, a Cantonese opera singer, perform.

    But those wondrous years are long gone — and the theater had become dirty, derelict and abandoned. Sporadic movies, plays and operas showed over the years, but attendance required being OK with revolting bathrooms with no hot water, thick layers of dust and general grunginess.

    The lowest point came in 2015 when the body of a 31-year-old woman was found inside the theater, and police arrested the man who was leasing the space at the time on suspicion of homicide. Prosecutors did not file charges against him due to lack of evidence.


    Paul Nathan (left) and John Anaya prepare for the June 10th opening of Devil in the Deck at Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it.Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
    So nothing about the theater exactly screamed opportunity and excitement. Except to Chu and Pincombe.

    They attended a circus-themed show there on their first date after meeting on a Chinese dating app and reached out to its landlord to ask about managing the theater. She finally got back to them last summer, and they settled on lease terms in November. The couple declined to provide the details.

    They’re hoping their newly beautiful theater will draw crowds to the neighborhood who will go out to eat and drink after the shows — a mix of movies, plays, variety shows, circuses and others. Chinatown’s small businesses suffered during the pandemic not only from strict shelter-in-place rules, but also racism fueled by the former president’s insistence on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and even “kung flu.”

    The recent spate of violence against Asian people, particularly elders, has also negatively impacted Chinatown and its residents’ feelings of safely walking around their own neighborhood.

    Chu said she’s reached out to many local organizations to introduce herself and her husband and see how the couple and their new theater can help.

    Amy Lee, 29, is the founder of Revive SF Chinatown, a group that aims to bring young people back to Chinatown, holds weekly events to support neighborhood businesses and organizes larger events. Lee grew up near Chinatown and recently moved back to her childhood home.

    “Pre-pandemic, the businesses were surviving, but the atmosphere was obviously different,” she said. “It wasn’t as happy compared to when I was growing up. People don’t really come and stay — they come and do their errands and then go home to the Richmond and Sunset.”

    She said she’s “very excited” about the reopening of the Great Star Theater and already has tickets to one of its first shows.

    “Having a space that provides entertainment and something that brings joy is very important,” she said.


    An altar backstage at Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it.Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle
    Jeff Lee, vice president of the 88-year-old Wah Ying Club, a Chinatown social group, said he remembers being the only one of his mother’s six kids growing up in Chinatown who would begrudgingly attend Chinese operas with her at the Great Star.

    “The condition was after the opera, she’d take me out for a midnight snack,” he said with a laugh.

    He said his group and the wider neighborhood is excited about the reopening.
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    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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