Jurong drive-in cinema
by Nureza Ahmad
Singapore’s only open-air drive-in cinema, the Jurong Drive-in, was opened by the then Minister of Culture, Jek Yuen Thong, on 14 July 1971. The brainchild and pride of Cathay Organisation, it was located at Yuan Ching Road, next to the Japanese Gardens. Built on a 5.6 ha site leased from the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), the cinema could accommodate 900 cars and an additional 300 people in its walk-in gallery. The drive-in cinema was closed on 30 September 1985 due to poor attendances and increasing competition from video pirates.1
Cathay Organisation adopted the drive-in cinema concept from the O’Halloran Hill cinema in Adelaide, Australia, and opened Singapore’s first and only drive-in cinema in Yuan Ching Road, Jurong (next to the Japanese Garden) on 14 July 1971. Also the largest in Asia, the opening of the Jurong Drive-in was officiated by the then Minister of Culture, Jek Yuen Thong.2 Premiering at the opening night was Ralph Thomas’ Doctor in Trouble. Box-office proceeds for the opening were donated to Jurong Town Creche.3
On the opening night, about 880 cars packed the 5.6 ha drive-in with an additional 300 patrons occupying its walk-in open gallery. They viewed the movie on a giant screen measuring 47 ft by 100 ft. Tilted at an angle of six-and-a-half degrees, the screen was raised 25 ft above ground. The movie soundtrack was played over 899 speaker stands on the drive-in grounds and special car speakers attached to individual cars. Patrons munched on snacks and ate ice cream sold during the screening.4
The drive-in cinema attracted thousands during its heyday in the 1970s. Movies were screened daily at two time slots 7.00 pm and 9.00 pm. Tickets were priced at S$2 for adults and S$1 for children under 12 years. It featured mainly first-run English language films and Hong Kong action movies. For instance, films starring Bruce Lee were very popular with patrons. His movie, The Big Boss, broke the drive-in cinema’s box-office record, collecting S$12,000 for one night.5
The popularity of the drive-in cinema was due to the new experience of watching a giant television screen from the privacy of the car. It was also one of the few family-friendly outings. But the novelty slowly wore off as the open-air cinema was at the mercy of tropical weather conditions, especially heavy downpours. Patrons complained that prolonged use of their windshield wipers throughout the shows when it rained was hazardous to their car’s ignition system. The open-air screening was also harder to manage and led to chaos as patrons who were impatient when car queues leading to the drive-in cinema became too long got out of their vehicles and walked. Gate-crashers also added to the unruliness and many who turned up did not pay for their tickets. Getting audiences to settle down led to delayed screening of shows.6 Plans to open other drive-in cinemas never materialised, resulting in the Jurong drive-in cinema being Singapore’s only drive-in cinema.7
As early as 1981, Cathay Organisation was already deliberating about closing the drive-in. Dismal attendance and illegal racing activities were their major concerns. For the past several years before it closed in 1985, on average only 200 people or 100 cars turned up for its daily screenings, occupying only a fraction of its 900-car capacity lot. The drastic drop in cinema attendance was attributed mainly to video piracy. The large vacuum invited unwelcome guests as motorcyclists were reportedly using the site for illegal racing activities after the shows ended. In view of these factors, Cathay Organisation decided not to renew its lease from Jurong Town Corporation (JTC). On 30 September 1985, Jurong Drive-in cinema screened its last shows and closed its chapter after 15 years of operation.8
Drive-in cinema revival
Drive-in cinemas were periodically revived through the years that followed the closing. As part of the 1996 arts festival fringe, the People’s Association’s carpark at Paya Lebar was transformed into a temporary drive-in cinema from 31 May to 1 June, screening family-oriented movies on both days.9 In 2003, Kallang carpark was the venue for a drive-in movie organised during the Romancing Singapore Festival.10 Currently, MovieMob hold free outdoor drive-in movie screenings in different locations around Singapore.11
1. Gutierrez, L. (1985, September 29). It’s curtains for Jurong Drive-in tomorrow. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
3. Byramji, N. (1971, July 15). 900 cars at ‘drive-in’. (1971, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
5. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
6. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
7. Uhde, J., & Ng Uhde, Y. (2000). Latent images: Film in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 69. (Call no. : RSING 384.8095957 UHD)
8. Gutierrez, L. (1985, September 29). It’s curtains for Jurong Drive-in tomorrow. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Tan, S. (1996, May 1). Movie bonuses at fringe fest. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Reliving the good old days. (2003, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. MovieMob. . Retrieved June 15, 2016 from MovieMob website: http://moviemob.sg
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.