When Long Thien Shih was a teenager, a bystander once shrieked dramatically that he was going to die when she saw him flailing in a sea of bodies in the mad rush that always happened whenever movie tickets went on sale at the old Rex cinema in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. Fortunately I escaped with just a bloody nose and could still watch the movie with my brothers and our cousin, ” remembers Long, with a chuckle.
The veteran artist, now 75, laughs at the memory of those days where you had to jostle to get your hands on the cheap tickets at Rex cinema.
“We couldn’t afford the first class tickets, so we had to always fight and squeeze our way through the crowd for these cheaper ones, ” says Long, who lived in Klang, Selangor, but travelled daily to KL to attend Methodist Afternoon School, or M.A.S., (part of the Methodist Boys' School).
"To cut a long story short, I was kicked out from my Chinese school in Klang (Pin Hwa High School) for being a mischievous student. No other Chinese school would take me in. That's how I ended up at M.A.S., a sort of school for 'notorious' students," he explains.
"I used to walk past Rex cinema every day to attend M.A.S. classes. Of course, on some days, we used to sneak into the cinema to catch a movie. I remember watching Gone With The Wind and South Pacific there. This old cinema holds plenty of childhood memories."
The French and British-trained artist/printmaker is currently working on a sketch series that captures scenes at the old Rex cinema, something to anchor his ongoing live art sessions at RexKL every weekend.
If you have old photographs of Rex cinema - now known as arts hub RexKL - it is now time to dig them up, because Long is looking to reproduce them in ink and pen drawings.
He will be at RexKL from 12pm to 6pm every Saturday and Sunday, to sketch old cinema photographs, its surroundings and also, chat about Petaling Street-era memories.
You will find him on the ground floor, just behind the cafe, where he will set up his easel and recapture the spirit of the cinema in its heyday through his sketches.
No doubt, this is a walk down memory lane for Long who reminisces that so much has changed in the area near Chinatown.
“It used to have lots of traditional shops like the tailors or signboard makers. Now it is handbags and sunglasses. I know this area well, I used to walk past the cinema on my way to school. I also enjoyed going into the record stores to browse and to listen to music. Of course, it is so very different now, but I hope to capture a bit of the nostalgia we have for the old times through my drawings, ” he says.
Besides sketches of the old cinema, Long is also open to doing portraits or any other requests the public might have.
For these post-pandemic art sessions, don’t be surprised to see other artists turning up there as well, because Long is planning to round up a few friends to join him.
Located on Jalan Sultan, the original Rex cinema building was completed in 1947, designed by architect James Robert Vethavanam. In 1972, it was set on fire during a botched burglary, causing it to burn down. It was then rebuilt in 1976 into a single-screen cinema operated by Shaw Brothers that could house over 1,000 people.
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