Every once in a while, I stumble upon a tidbit that reassures me that the modern experience is truly a universal one. This time, the story comes to me by way of a silly email I get once a week from a website that does nothing more than compile odd little news stories from around the globe. They got it from The Guardian in London, who got it from the Calgary (Canada) Herald, who got it from the Associated Foreign Press, who got it from the official state news service in China. So, in a way, the story is third- or fourth-hand, but I did take the time to look up the original Calgary story, so I feel rather confident sharing it here.
To set the scene: You see a trailer for a film you are interested in seeing. You go to the bank and speak to your friendly loan officer and see if you can get enough money scraped together to pay the current going rate for a movie ticket (OK, I might be exaggerating here). The paper says the movie starts at 7:30, so you diligently arrive at the theater at 7:20, buy your ticket and popcorn, and are snuggly in your seat promptly at 7:30. At which point the “Coming Attractions” begin. It is a modern nemesis, and it seems that there is nothing you can do about it, but one woman in the People’s Republic of China is taking back the power.
Chen Xiaomei, who just happens to be a lawyer, actually sued her local movie theater for wasting her time with 20 minutes of movie trailers. Granted, it will be a token suit, as she is only requesting damages that total about $12: actual damages of her ticket price, and the ticket price again, plus $1 as punitive damages for the Chinese equivalent of “pain and suffering”. She is also asking for a written apology and calling for pre-show ads to total no more than 5 minutes, with the actual ad times being listed in the paper along with the movie times. The whole thing will probably come to nothing, but it is the principle of the thing that impresses me.
After all, how many times have you sat in a darkened theater thinking, “Can we just get on with it, already?” I know I have, and I have always felt helpless to do anything about it. If you take into consideration that there are going to be trailers, and arrive fashionably late, then you have to try to find a seat in the dark. If you arrive on time, you have to sit there and watch the best 4 minutes of every movie being released in the next 18 months, along with the repeated “commercials” requesting you turn off your cell phone (I use that time to text friends). The longer these ads and announcements go on, the more restless and bored the audience gets, so they start talking to each other, and the next thing you know, you have missed the pivotal first 45 seconds of the movie because you were eavesdropping on the woman in front of you who was describing her recent gallbladder surgery to her companion. You have just wasted $7.50 (or more if the movie is 3-D). Now you only have two choices (OK, really you have three, but personal ethics prevent me from encouraging anyone to illegally download current run movies): you can either pay another ticket price and see the movie again, or you can wait for it to come out on DVD or Netflix and buy or rent it. Either way, since you have already missed the first 45 seconds, the entire rest of the movie will be ruined. You might as well have stayed home.
I hope Ms. Chen wins. I hope her local theater is suitably chastised and slapped on the wrist, and I hope that the rest of the world sits up and takes notice. Who knows, maybe this time next year, the local paper will be listing: “Doors open at 7:15, actual movie time at 7:53.”