Special Report: 4Star Theater San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The 4Star Theater in the Richmond district of San Francisco has been a cinema landmark since the 1920’s and the days of silent films and the nickelodeons. If you look up at the ceiling you will notice some of the intricate design of this wonderful little theater with comfortable chairs and a good sized screen. For the past 12 years Frank and Lida Lee have operated the theater. But as trends seem to be going, this single theater is one of many to bite the dust, in this case not to make more room for the cineplexes but a Lutheran Church. The synergy that is built by this neighborhood theater together with cafes and restaurants has caused several merchants to protest, not to mention plenty of angry and concerned Richmond residents. We’ve seen the Alhambra Theater go where my uncle Ernie took out my aunt Monica on her first date, and the Coronet both on Geary Blvd.

According to Frank Lee, it’s a 50-50 chance that the theater will win the legal rights to remain as they go up against the owners of Canaan Lutheran Church with the support of San Francisco district 1 Richmond supervisor Jake McGoldrick. The case is resting on a San Francisco theater law that protects neighborhood theaters. Frank Lee is a film buff proficient in independent and art house cinema. I rattled off a list of Asian films I’d seen at European fests this year and he knew them all, and of course the latest Hong Kong films, the only theater in the US which shows them, virtually days after their release in Hong Kong. The theater is well attended and home of the Asian Film Festival, now in its 9th year and also shows world cinema gems where currently David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is running,

A fundraiser to save the theater on December 17th featured some excellent Hong Kong classics. I caught two of them: the 1964 Last Woman of Shang, Lida Lee’s favorite! - a lavish period piece about a the daughter of a Duke who sets out to avenge the death of her father, and bring down the evil tyrant Emperor Zho and A Soul Haunted by Painting, (Hua hun) starring Gong LI. The story is about Yu-liang who meets Mr. Pan in a brothel and becomes his 9th wife. While he is on the road she takes art lessons in Shanghai and eventually in Paris where she is praised for drawing nudes. This is less appreciated in China and after her return to her homeland as an art professor she is forced into exile when her past is discovered. Also featured was action thriller Super Cop 2 starring Michelle Yeoh, Ma Wu ‘s The Deaf and Mute Heroine, with excellent Mandarin swordplay by a woman who also is proficient in rattling her jewelry, something John Lennon might have appreciated and (Siu-Tung Ching) Chinese Ghost Story, 1987 featuring a ghoul that sucks out the essence of his victims with a super long tongue.

One of the treats at the fundraiser was Dr Zee Lo who donated his martial art DVDS including Mortal Combat and an autographed poster. Plus the 4 star WAS one of the best places to be with the rain that hit San Francisco, a week before the holidays.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, San Francisco
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4Star Theater San Francisco