Hidden among quiet woods of maple trees and poplars boldly illuminated with neon road signs is the Maple Leaf, an outdoor theater that somewhat belies its bucolic name and setting. For this is not the sort of place to find open-air performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream but rather eardrum-rattling screenings of the latest Hollywood blockbuster: yes, it's a drive-in cinema and is now the first of its kind to provide 3-D movies in China, according to general manager Gu Haiqiong.
We found Gu in braggish form when we went to the Maple to find out more. The US exporters of the screens were surprised at his operation, according to Gu, as "we had a successful outdoor 3-D set-up in Beijing when there isn't even one back in the US our 3-D screen is bigger than regular drive-in screens with an aspect ratio of 16:9 and all four of our screens are arc-shaped anyway, meaning the audience gets the best view wherever they're parked."
Come wind, rain and virus
The Maple is Beijing's only all-night long cinema; in fact, the only reason they stop playing movies when the sun comes up is because you can't watch them properly in daylight. But if they could figure out a solution to remain open constantly, they probably would do because Gu says "though the weather [here] is brutal and changes all the time, the Maple remains opens even in the worst conditions; as long as people are driving in, nothing stops us staying open."
Owner Wang Qishun is perhaps most proud of his cinema's stalwart approach to business hours during the 2003 SARS crisis. "99.99 percent of public business places were shut down at the time but the Maple was standing quietly here and greeting audience still. Having a safe open-air environment made us the 0.01 percent still open to entertain the people," he told Lifestyle, recalling how staff wore masks to sell tickets, such was their passion for cinema. This act of defiance apparently boosted the Maple's reputation with the authorities. "The necessity of the existence of places like us in Beijing was acknowledged by the government who gave us their support afterwards," Wang said. Shortly after the cinema became a member of the New Film Association, granting them access to the latest hot tickets. Their 3-D screen is currently showing Avatar (no surprise here) and kung fu flick True Legend with Alice in Wonderland debuting on April 26.