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Aug 26, 2019

Raising the REX

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Rex Cinema is once again resurrected.

By Jason Johnson

[Source:  New Paper, 14 September 2009]

Talking to business people can be frustrating.  Here I was interviewing Mr Narayanasamy Muthu, the man who has brought the Rex Cinemas (formerly known as the Rex Theatre) back to life after 26 years - yay! - and somehow I seemed more excitwed about the prospect than he did.

Mr Narayanasamy Muthu

"Is this the theatre you went to when you were a boy?" I asked, hoping to get some misty-eyed tale about how he'd seen his first movie there, thus embarking upon a life-long love affair with cinema.

Instead, Mr Muthu filled me in on how he's in the film distribution business, and how getting into film exhibition will supplement and enhance his current operation.

Also, he runs a successful jewellery business.  Specialises in gems.

As far as sepia-toned childhood memories go, I didn't get much.

"When I was young," he said, "I was very interested in the film line, and plus I was wroking in a jewellery shop.  Both had a hold on my mind, and I thought in the future I would do both businesses."

But perhaps expecting poetry from a man who has spent a lifetime wheeling and dealing, buying and selling film prints and precious stones, is just silly.

Bottom line, Mr Muthu is making an immense contribution to the community in and around Little India.

His reborn Rex - which has been completely refurbished, top to bottom, over the past five months - will fill a niche that sorely needs to be filled in Singapore.

"I intend to play movies of many different languages in the cinema," he said.

"Not just English movies, but Malay movies, Hindi movies, maybe even big Chinese movies.  Of course, being in Little India, the main thing we have to show is Tamil films.

"In Singapore, there are so many different languages spoken, I've even had Nepali people asking me to show their films!"

The question is, how on earth can the Rex compete in a market already saturated with state-of-the-art megaplexes?

"Everyone knows about the Rex," said Mr Muthu, who at 62 is just one year younger than the Rex itself.

"After it was opened by the Shaw Brothers in 1946, all the races would come here to watch movies.  All those people have experience the Rex.  Everybody knows about the Rex Cinemas.

"For example, the Rex is on Mackenzie Road, but if you ask people where Mackenzie Road is, they don't know.  If you ask them where Rex is, they know."

As Mr Muthu gave me a tour of his new theatre, his obvious pride in the plae came through.

He might be unwilling to verbally express his excitement, but pointing out the various features of the new Rex, he was obviously delighted with the place.

The poor Rex has had its shares of ups and downs since it ceased operations as a movie theatre way back in 1983, due in large part to the rise of home video.

It's been used as a Methodist church, an ice-skating rink and a disco.  For the past two years, it was abandoned, after its last tenant, the Indian nightclub Amaran, closed shop.

Now, finally, the Rex has been restored to the former glory, thanks to the $3 million-plus investment of Mr Muthu and his Malaysian business partner, Murugan Soppurayan.

It has three cinema halls.  The main hall boasts of a super-wide screen,a nd has a seating capacity of 700.  Two smaller - but still quite big - halls are upstairs.

Ticket prices will be about the same as those of Rex's competitors.

On the outside, the theatre maintains the essence of its art deco origins, the nice simple lines of the original architecture enhanced with bright orange trim.

Inside and outside, there are movie posters everywhere.  My fave is one for a Hindi moview called "Daddy Cool".

Daddy cool

It made me want to call Mr Muthu Daddy Cool, but I didn't.

Mr Muthu's son, Mr N Senthilkumaran, helped in the design of the theatre.  He said:  "Our screen design is from India.  In India, the screen design is very big - they like big things (laughs).  Our screen is 70mm (built for large format film projection).  It curves to offer a better viewing experience.

"Even if you're sitting up front, you can see everything."

By the end of my time with Mr Muthu, I still hadn't managed to get him sentimental about the Rex (obviously, I'm no Barbara Walters), but I did take note when he spoke of how people in his community had reacted to his latest venture.

"Sometimes when I'm in a shop, people come and congratulate me.  They tell me that when they were young, their parents would like them to the Rex.  They're so happy, I hear that all the time."

Rex Cinema brings back fond memories for this 70-something


[Source:  New Paper, 23 September 2009]

Your report, "Raising the Rex" (The New Paper, 14 Sep), has made my day.

Far too many building and places in Singapore which I can relate to are gone.

Even the Cuppage Road house where I was born, preserved at one time, is now a food court without a trace of my childhood home left.

I am now in my mid-70s and Rex Cinema brings back fond memories.

As a regular patron, I was there at the afternoon opening show of Rock Around The Clock, with policemen on duty in the theatre just in case over enthusiatic rock 'n' roll fans got out of hand.

It was at the Rex Book Stall, by the side of the building that I made my purchase of sex education book, which taught me so much.

And, during my undergraduate days, I made almost daily trips on a Green Bus to the hawker stalls there for my lunch of Indian rojak and mee siam.

On the first floor of the corner coffee shop building on Mackenzie Road (where the popular curry puff was sold) there was a Hainanese run halal restaurant selling Chinese food.  It was probably the first of such restaurants.

I wish Mr Narayanasamy Muthu every success in his endeavour to revive the Rex Cinema.

First "Sensurround" film "Earthquake" at Rex Cinema

Crowd at Rex Cinema queuing for the film "Earthquake".  It was the first film shown in Singapore that featured the new "Sensurround" sound effects that also sent vibrations through the cinema seats to simulate a real earthquake.

The archived photos to share on the blog with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

Roti Prata seller

A roti prata seller at his stall behind the Rex Cinema.  Photo dated 24/20/1972.

Junction of Kitchener and Serangoon Roads with cinema advertisements for the Capitol, Rex and Prince Cinemas owned by the Shaw Brother organisations in the background on the right is one of the entrances to New World Amusement Park where an advertisement on trade fain 1982 is placed.

Photo dated 01/11/1982 courtesy of Ronni Pinsler Collection, National Archives of Singapore.

Photo dated 18/7/1948 courtesy of Wong Kwan collection, National Archives of Singapore.

Please share the heritage blog "Rex Cinema Then and Now" here .

  • Rex Theatre main entrance at Mackenzie Road, Singapore in 1982.


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