Director Tarantino Focuses on Opening a Specialty Movie House

by Kristin Friedrich

After a year-and-a-half of negotiation, film director Quentin Tarantino is set to sign a lease agreement for the vacant King Hing theater at 649 N. Spring St. in Chinatown, a source familiar with the deal told Los Angeles Downtown News last week.

George Yu, executive director for the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID), said the lease contract is in the hands of both Tarantino and the theater's property owner. Tarantino's publicist did not return calls and the director's business manager would not comment.

Tarantino, best known for the 1994 work Pulp Fiction, reportedly wants to create a specialized movie house for Chinese cinema. Yu said that Tarantino has told him stories about visiting the King Hing and Chinatown's other movie theaters as a young man. The director's fourth film, Kill Bill, scheduled to hit theaters this fall, is an homage to Chinese martial arts films of the '70s.

The 425-seat theater was built in the '60s and has been vacant since 1996. The BID arranged for visits from the Building and Safety and Fire departments. The owner will absorb the costs of bringing the structure up to code, and Tarantino will pay for refurbished sound and projection systems.

In addition to the theater, Tarantino will have access to hundreds of Chinese films, some little-seen classics, that are stored on the property and belong to the theater's owner. Tarantino has agreed to catalog them, and restore them if he chooses to screen them.

Yu said that representatives for the director approached him at the end of 2001, but negotiations languished for months, partially because the theater's owner, a woman who speaks limited English, didn't know who Tarantino was.

In March, Tarantino spoke at a Chinese martial arts film festival at UCLA, and stories about Kill Bill, much of which was filmed in China, began to appear in Chinese publications. Tarantino's management team put together a packet of clippings, which Yu showed to the theater's owner.

A lunch meeting was scheduled. The owner, the BID's executive committee and Tarantino's representatives were to attend. Yu's team was surprised when Tarantino himself walked in.

"We felt that he was a man that truly loved Asian cinema, and wanted to have a place to show these movies," Yu said.

The section of Spring Street just north of Cesar Chavez Avenue has undergone several phases of revitalization over the years. The area is part of what was once called China City, a development championed in the 1930s by Christine Sterling, the socialite who shaped Olvera Street. Fires ravaged the street in the '40s, and by that time, New Chinatown was taking shape further north, around Central Plaza.

The idea of a buzz-heavy director adding to the vitality of the area is exciting local business owners, many of whom located in Chinatown following the explosion of art galleries on and around Chung King Road. Recently a new restaurant, Asian Noodles, and fashion public relations firm APR Consulting, opened their doors. Hair stylist Jose Cantu plans to open a salon on Spring Street this summer.

Andrae Gonzalo, owner of another new Spring Street store, clothing boutique Forget It, Jake (a reference to the last line from the film Chinatown), says he remembers the day last year when "mysterious and chic Hollywood types" exited the theater holding film canisters.

"They were button-lipped about the whole thing, but later I heard they were Quentin Tarantino's people, and it's been like Waiting for Godot ever since," said Gonzalo. "That's what I call it, 'Waiting for Godot Tarantino.'"

(page 1, 05/26/03)

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