Cinema is definitely a form of entertainment and leisure. It is also a form of socialising. When we want to have a good time among friends or family members, going to cinema will be one of the popular option.

Kota Bharu in yester years have 4 cinemas namely; Odeon, Lido, Rex and Rani. Odeon featured high class, imported films and most expensive of the four. It was for the higher income strata. Lido was average and within reach of common folks. Rex mostly featured chinese films. The cheapest of the lot was Rani that normally featured those cheap kung fu and indonesian silat films.


Going to cinema was the topmost incentive by Dad for us to excel in our studies. His target however was too high; only the achievement for the number one to three spot will get the prize. Hence, only Bro Nawi who consistently scored the top post managed to get the prize. I was a slow catcher. I climbed up slowly though surely. Only when I was in std 5 did I managed to clinch the top spot.

Dad, however, was very diplomatic. He would say that though my achievement may not qualify for the prize I could ‘tumpang’ Bro Nawi’s achievement and go to the cinema too. I just need to work harder next time. Adoiii.. always trailing and tumpang. It was not good for my self esteem. Bro Nawi was a natural. It’s not that he studied more than me. We studied under the same pelita ayam. It was his streak. Parent should not have one track vision in measuring the children.

Then to Kota Bharu we would go, to my sister Zainab’s house and her teacher husband we affectionately called Abang. Abang was from one of the pioneer families of Kg.Khatib Ali of Jalan Bayam; the Tok Khatib tree. The other pioneer was Nakhoda Ali from where my cousins from Mom’s side came from. Those were from the time I still lived at Kg Tangok, i.e; in the 60s. By form one, starting 1971 I had started schooling at SM Sultan Ismail, stayed at Sister Nab’s house and watched cinema myself without having to ‘tumpang’ Bro Nawi anymore, Hahahaha. My brother in law believe in giving freedom to us. Gracious Abang.




In 1970, Love Story starring Ryan O’Neill and Ally McGraw was released and became instant success. People start quoting “Love means never having to say you are sorry!!!” Not such a gem of a quote but that was the power of cinema. It captured your imagination and passion. It was one of the highest grossing films of all time (Quote: wikipedia).

In 1972 Indonesia released ‘Perkawinan’, starring widyawati and Sophan Sophiaan, maybe as an answer to Love Story. It was a great hit and I got to watch it at Lido. The sound was just great and I could still hear the booming word “PERKAWINAN” pronounced by the presenter in that bassy uniquely Indonesian voice that filled the cinema. That was the joy of watching in a real cinema and not the multitude of mini cinemas in abundance nowadays. It won 7 Best awards in 1973 Indonesian Festival. Widyawati and Sophan became household name after that. I believe they got married after that.


Musicals were very popular in that era and gave rise to pop and hippy cultures. We saw the rise of pop bands like Dloyd, Carefree and the evergreen Alleycats. Notable Indonesian films that fed on these and captured the imaginations of the East Coasters were among them;

  • Dunia Belum Kiyamat, starring Muchsin, Titiek Sandhora, Benjamin S
  • Akhir Sebuah Impian, starring Broery Marantika, Emilia Contessa, Benjamin S

The stars became heros and heroins of the day. Their songs such as Akhir Sebuh Impian and Mimpi Sedih graced the radios and danced on the lips of the youngsters. I still remembered the powerful melodious voice of Emillia Contessa singing the number with the comical Benjamin S. What a singer she was.

Often their songs were sang in groups and gatherings. I remembered in my college days up the Maxwell Hill and sleeping in tents. We sat around a campfire one night and Rashid (now a professor) my classmate began to strike his guitar. We then huddled together in the coolness of the night lighted only by the stars and carressed by the cool air. We then sang songs together to our hearts desire. After a few songs “Oooii.. Balik KK lah. Buat bising saja. Kami nak tido lah Oooiii“. It was from the Indian plantation workers. Even the curse was in Malay, hahaha.

Then came THE BOMB.

All those  achievements of the love stories and musicals previously were wiped clean in the East Coast people’s mind by the Bollywood block buster, Bobby, released in 1973 starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. It became the talk of the century. The most popular question was not “have you seen it?” BUT “how many times have you watched Bobby?” I scored a moderate 3 HAHAHAHA… My best friend said he watched 5 times but another friend upstaged him, saying sheepishly, “Aku tengok 7 KALI”. 
The songs were immediate hits and became lullabies sung mostly by women. eRRR…Men too..hehehe.


Indonesia seemed to be trying very hard to upstage Hong Kong Film Industry in releasing fighting films.
The ground breaker then was Si Pitung starring Dicky Zulkarnaen, released in 1970 followed by Benteng Betawi, 1971. It portrayed the Indonesian fighting spirit against the Dutch colonialist much like chinese films depicting heroism against the Japanese invaders.
Quickly the indonesian film producers rode on this success and released Si Buta Dari Gua Hantu starring Ratna Timoer as the blind fighter to take revenge on the Si Mata malaikat and restored the harmony of his village. Farouk Afero came to challenge Ratna Timoer with Si Gondrong; the hippy, chubby looking hero and kept us going to cinemas watching Indonesian Silat films. The plethora of sequels and cross hero fighting followed, much like The Terminator, Aliens, Predators seriels.
Here Come Bruce Lee

Much like Bobby shattering the musicals and love imaginations held by previous films, Bruce Lee exploded on the celluloid screens all over the world from 1971 to become everyone’s martial arts hero. The previous skill of Kung Fu exponents shown by using trampolines and wire lines were soon pooh pooohhs by the people because Bruce Lee scoffed these unrealistic martial mastery and instead used real techniques and skill. He even had to slow down the camera to enable his lightning fast kicks to be captured on films and this became a new standard in martial arts films.SmartSelect_20191104-222354_Google

Bruce Lee starred in 5 films, one of which was uncompleted (completed latter by others) named cryptically The Game of Death. Many theories were attributed to his death not the least of which was a death touch strucked by actor Dicky Zulkarnaen or Grandmaster Meor Abd Rahman of Silat Gayung Malaysia from SEA region and Dim Mak from other quarters. All were denied by his student Danny Inosanto and wife Linda Lee.

Strange maybe, I was not interested in Bruce Lee then, though it was the talk of the town among colleagues. I was more interested in my Silat. I only knew of him and watched his films when I was studying in the UK. Then on I was strucked by Bruce Lee fever and would buy any material I could find of him from the market.

I was influenced by Zahari Hassan, my classmate to watch Kung Fu films when I was studying in Kota Bharu. That was in 1971. The hero at the time was Wang Yu. One of the cinema at Kota Bharu, the Rani Cinema Theatre only cost 60 cent for third class seat. The cinema normally showed cheap Kung Fu and Indonesian Silat film. That did not matter because the objective of such films were good fighting moves.

One Armed Boxer Starring Wang Yu

Wang Yu One Armed Boxer
I remember watching one of the film called The One Armed Boxer starring Wang Yu. In the story, the hero from a classical fight Kung Fu school was defeated by a japanese Karate fighter and lost his arm. He was then advised to learn the Old Chinese Pugilism which focused on strengthening and toughening of the body parts to avenge his defeat. As part of the training, the hero tied weights which were increasingly added to his feet as he jogged with it. The jog then turned to a run, sprinting, and followed by jumping. In the end, he could jump to the rooftop without the weights. As most stories then, he finally defeated the Karate Fighter and restored order and harmony to community.


The story caught my imagination and I started to practice. Putting on a soldier’s boot, I tied a brick on each and did a high jump. After one such jump, I lost my balance, fell down and broke my arm. I felt very foolish and ashamed of the accident for allowing myself to be influenced by such a film. I was very scared of what Dad would say when he learnt of the accident because he had always admonished us to not do anything that would cause harm to ourselves and others.

When he came smiling however, it was like a huge burden lifted. What he said was a wisdom I remember to this day; `Apa guna cakap lagi. Nasihat dan marah ni sebelum berlaku. Kalau dah berlaku, tak guna marah lagi. Dah tak boleh undur (To admonish is only useful before the mishap happen. Once it has happened, admonition is of no more use because we cannot reverse the process).

That’s it folks.

4 thoughts on “CINEMAS OF KOTA BHARU IN THE 60s AND 70s

Add yours

  1. Beautiful write Li.
    Even though you had to tumpang in the earlier years, you do graduate first class honours in film critique judging from the depth of your passionate write on those gems.
    Bravo Li


  2. I left it in my mail box for several days cos Im pretty occupied with my mum. This shiny morning I open up the mail and there you took me back thru the time tunnel of the 60s & 70s….thank you for those sweet memories.
    I love the husky voice of Emilia Contessa….
    Congrats boss for bringing back the sweet memories of our younger days….


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