Image Courtesy of DC Movie Man
By Dean Robbins
One of the last movies I saw at Regal Gallery Place was a re-release of the 2003 Taiwanese slow burn classic Goodbye, Dragon Inn. That film, by Taiwanese New Wave maverick Tsai Ming-liang, follows a group of patrons and an employee on the rainy last night of a Chinese movie theater.
The story, if the narrative can be called that, is extremely slow and meditative. We watch a character smoke for several minutes or the disabled projectionist walk up several flights of stairs. There are precious few words spoken in the 82-minute runtime. The tone is funereal. It is chiefly about the ghosts that can haunt a place – the memories, and experiences shared there that linger long after the heyday. I watched Goodbye, Dragon Inn in an empty theater on a rainy night. It was one of my favorite theatrical experiences.
As soon as this week, the 14-screen Chinatown theater will close after almost nineteen years of operation. Due to necessary cost-cutting measures, Regal is shutting down several locations, including Gallery Place and two other DMV-area theaters. Anyone who visits Gallery Place will have no doubt about why the decision was made. The Chinatown region has been on a downward spiral since the COVID-19 pandemic, with businesses closing and crime rising. I personally feel unsafe entering and exiting the Gallery Place Metro station. There is rarely a crowd of moviegoers, which is usually a relief because the concession stand is unnaturally slow (said as a theater worker of four years). The recliners are inferior to those at the Alamo Drafthouse Bryant Street or even the Regal Majestic in Silver Spring. The lobby and theaters need to be updated and cleaned. Tickets are expensive, too, with the average evening ticket costing as much as $15.
Despite all of these drawbacks, I will miss Regal Gallery Place. Every few years, I would take a summer vacation to Washington, D.C., for a convention, and Gallery Place was my go-to movie spot. I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), its sequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2017), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), and other films there as well. I remember when the downstairs box office was open, and the area was a lot more crowded. In my freshman year at CUA, I organized groups to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and Dune (2021) there.
The fall of the theater is also likely the last straw for the struggling Gallery Place mall. Smoothie King, Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream, and Clyde’s remain, but the other indoor restaurants have been closed for a while. There has been a Thai restaurant, a conveyor sushi joint, a Bar Louie location, a bowling alley, and many other eateries in the past decade all gone. I hope there will be a revitalization of the area, but it may take some time. For now, we can only say “Goodbye, Gallery Place” and let our memories linger on.