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Isis Theatre, Ipoh - An Introduction And Brief History

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Subject :Isis Theatre, Ipoh - An Introduction and Brief History
Published By : None 
Location : Anderson Road, Ipoh
Estimated Year : 1939
Media Type : Photograph
Source : J S Cheah, Singapore (photoigraph only)
Remark :

This is a picture of the Isis Theatre in Ipoh showing the movie Warrior Husband. This movie is billed as: "a racy (for 1933) satire set in 800 BC, an overbearing band of Amazon women rule their men with an iron fist. They live in the land of Pontus. Their buxom queen is married. Like all Pontus men, her spouse is an utter panty-waist in the face of his women. Still things are going well in the land until a veritable Greek god of a handsome hunk leads his army in for an invasion. The strong-willed women are bowled over by these indomitable, muscle men. The queen's sister soon falls in love with one of them. The other women gladly allow the conquerors to rule them. Centuries pass, and though the leadership has changed, the women are still warriors and still prefer to have their menfolk at home."

The movie stars Elissa Landi, Marjorie Rambeau, and Ernest Truex.


The Isis Theatre was the pre-war name for the converted, post-war Rex Theatre. Built in 1916 by Mr. John Archibald (Archie) Russel at the corner of Hume Street and Anderson Road on land he had bought in 1913. This was reported by The Straits Times 12 August 1916, page 6 as follows.

" Mr J. A. Russell, of Kuala Lumpur, who owns the New Town, Ipoh, is to build a cinema hall in Hume Street, while Eng Khoon is already building one in Brewster Road, near the Birch Bridge."

It was leased to Runme Shaw in February 1932 and rebuilt by the Shaw Brothers in that year. We believe that it had in the interim become a warehouse. According to the Minutes of the J A Russell Company (kindly provided by Claire Grey, granddaughter of Archie Russell) the lease was renewed for a further 4 years on 28 Fenruary 1936 at $700 a month. This was confirmed by both parties on 6 June 1932.

On expiry of the lease on 28 February 1940 Runme Shaw again agreed to a new lease, this time for 7 Years. This was agreed to be at a reduced rental to allow the Shaw Brothers to improve the cinema "in first class condition and in the forefront of theatres in the towm". The new lease was signed on 17 Jamuary 1940 with the intention of rebovations being completed by 8 February the same year. However, in August 1940 the Ipoh Sanitary Board rejected theapplication for a continuation of the cinema operating licence for 1941 unless the building could be made to comply with the London County Council regulations for cinemas. This included replacing the woodwn balcony with reinforced concrete. As the Sanitary Board refused to negotiate a settlement, the owners agreed to comply with the requiremet and tenders were called for. Following this agreement the Sanitary Board agreed to waive the requirement for private parking arrangements which had become a ruling for all new cinemas.

Reconstruction of the Isis cinema was planned to start in October 1940 at a cost of $15,000. While work was in progress the Shaw Brothers' Rental was reduced to 50%, but thereafter the rental would be increased by $10 per month for every $1,000 spent by the owners. Recomstruction plans were finally agreed by Sanitary Board in January 1941 which required a new tender process, but with a shortage of building materials dur to the war in Europe, the reconstruction it was considered likely that reconstruvtion may may have to be postponed indefinitely. 

On 27 March 1941 it is recorded that the Sanitary Board had agreed to issue the 1941 operating licence for the cinema if the balcony was closed. The Shaws contested this ruling but were overuled. Meanwhile the renovation works continued slowly and by August 1941 were effectively complate except for the new balcony. The Santary Noard then agreed that if the wooden balcony was treated with fire resisting compound a full licence could be issued.

There were two dragon relief mouldings near the stage to protect it from the spirits of those Chinese who had died and their funeral rites had been held either in the coffin shops or the upstairs terminally ill 'convalescent homes', sited directly behind the building.

During the Japanese Occupation all cinemas were under the control of the Hapanese who used them for a variety of functions. There were films shown, either Japanese propaganda or selected Chinese movies. At least one was shown every day, in one of the movie theatres and the Chinese movie schedule was printed in the approved newspapers along with all other movie schedules. The Chinese movies came from Occupied Shanghai and were made by the Japanese-controlled China Film United Corporation, but they were anodyne love stories (as opposed to turgid propaganda) and featured top Chinese movie stars including Chen Yanyan, Chen Yunshang, Zhou Xuan, and Yuan Meiyun as well as top directors including Bu Wancang and Zhu Shilin.

After the war the dragons were retained when the Shaw Brothers renovated the building in 1947 at the end of their lease, having arranged purchase of the building at an unknown date, and renamed it the Rex Theatre. Prior to the war they also had a Rex Thetre in Brewster Road leased to them by the Foo family. After the war the lease of that building was taken by the Cathay organisation who renamed the building the Odeon Theatre after a fierce court bayyle which Shaw Brothers lost..

The building remains (in 2008) as a furniture shop and the coffin shops also remain close by; same with the convalescent homes (where you only went to die), both are still in operation.

To read more about the Rex Theatre click here.

To read more about the Odeon Theatre click here.

To read about Archibald Russell, click here.



Filename : 20080407-001