Everyone loves a little nostalgia. And what better way to indulge in a little nostalgia than by taking memories of a time past and adapting them for a modern age. We’ve seen that happen in various 70’s, 80’s or 90s themed parties; in the numerous film reboots and remakes (‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘Star Wars’ are just some that come to mind); and now, in the form of an old theatre in the heart of Kuala Lumpur being given new life as an art space.
REXKL was previously Rex Theatre, located in Chinatown and one of Malaysia’s largest theatres run by Shaw Brothers, a production company that showed foreign films and many famous local Malay films. The theatre burned down in the early 1970s, and was later taken over by Golden Communications (now known as Golden Screen Cinemas). In 1993, it became the first cinema in Malaysia to acquire a digital sound processor system. Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end—in 2002, the cinema ceased operations. In its place, a backpacker’s hostel was built. Ironically, history repeated itself when the building was caught in yet another fire.
Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, architect Shin Chang—known for revamping buildings with historical significance in the city—has dear childhood memories of Chinatown. Now, the ambitious architect together with fellow architect Shin Tseng and content creator Beatrice Leong have decided to take on a project to revive the three-storey building and bring back the theatre’s past glory days. Project advisors include architects Ng Sek San and Kamil Merican and creative director Joseph Foo.
This redevelopment project aims to not only preserve the heritage and nostalgia of the old theatre, but to reclaim its spirit and build on it. It has already grabbed the public’s attention and made headlines with the launch of REXKL Flower Market, a Spring Festival event held over three weekends earlier this year.
The team plans to create a cultural centre for local communities to come together, and will include a theatre, an independent cinema, a museum, library, bookstore, restaurants, bars and a multitude of businesses helmed by young entrepreneurs. According to Leong, “REXKL wants to build for the future, but in saying that, it is not to forego our past, but to build upon it and to look forward in defining our identity as we grow.” She continues, “What makes a space come alive is its people and the stories they bring. Not the bricks nor the concrete pillars.”
At the launch of REXKL Flower Market earlier this year.
Arts and culture have played a significant role in Malaysia’s development. Even with the commendable continuous efforts of the government to ensure this part of our heritage doesn’t get lost to the ages, some have slipped through the cracks. Like the Rex Theatre. But with this redevelopment project in the works, a new generation can look forward to creating new memories at this iconic space.