Discover a world where neon lights glow and ice cream cones shimmer in the moonlight. In 1971, the Cathay Organisation made it a reality. Cathay was one of Singapore’s first film companies, and it made a number of contributions to the local industry. Cathay, the company that operated hundreds of movies, including Pontianak series, was founded in 1910. They constructed the Cathay Complex in 1939, which was then Southeast Asia’s tallest building. It is now a national monument and cinema complex.
What’s less known is that Cathay was the impetus behind Singapore’s first and only permanent drive-in cinema, which opened in 1965. With too much excitement, Cathay opened the Jurong Drive-in Cinema at Yuan Ching Road on 14 July 1971.
The construction of the residential developments in Jurong began in the mid-to-late 1960s, soon after the growth of an industrial city in 1962. The Taman Jurong estate was built in 1964 to serve Singapore’s fast-growing population in Jurong. Housing, schools, markets, and places of worship were constructed in the estate. Taman Jurong’s roads were originally numbered in sequence from Taman Jurong 1 to 12.
The Street Naming Committee changed the names of the roads in 1970. Yuan Ching Road was named after the founder’s home, Taman Yuan Ching. The name of the road where the drive-in cinema would be built was changed to Yuan Ching Road (which means “garden beauty” in Mandarin). The year that followed saw the construction of Jurong Drive-in Cinema on Yuan Ching Road near to Jurong Park.
The cinema area was 5.6 hectares in size and accommodated the continent’s largest drive-in with a capacity of 900 vehicles, as well as an enclosed space for another 300 people. The screen was 16 meters tall and eight meters broad, with individual speakers for each vehicle. Beverages and snacks were provided by mobile vendors to complete the production.
On the opening night, the cinema presented the British film Doctor in Trouble, which was attended by then-Minister for Culture Jek Yuen Thong. The opening proceeds for the water park were donated to the community by Cathay. It also offered donations to both facilities in Jurong Town Centre and Jurong Town Community Centre.
In the 1970s, the Jurong Drive-in Cinema was a popular nighttime pastime destination for the recently relocated Jurong residents and others who drove from all across Singapore to see the thrill of an outdoor movie.
On a historic evening of the showing of Bruce Lee’s Big Boss, the cops had to be called in to maintain order since many drivers had left the long line of cars queuing up to enter the drive-in cinema and gone on foot instead.
The popularity of the drive-in cinema began to wane in the early 1980s. It felt as a result of factors such as the development of more local cinemas and heartland malls with cinemas, as well as an increase in video piracy. The weather also had a significant say in the success or failure of the drive-in industry. In addition, because it was outdoors, it was susceptible to rain and other weather conditions.
“A total of 568,000 people visit the drive-in each year, a far cry from the traffic jams that plagued it in its early days. Then, for each show, as many as 400 automobiles would crawl at a snail’s pace through the entrance gates, attracting an additional audience.” (The Straits Times, 18 December 1983)
After 15 years, the Jurong Drive-in Cinema closed in September 1985. The Fairway Club, which replaced it today, is a family recreational club with golfing, paintball and swimming as popular activities.
At several sites, MovieMob has revived the drive-in experience by promoting it as a special attraction for filmgoers who want to enjoy movies in the open air. Singapore’s only ever permanent drive-in cinema, the now-defunct Jurong Drive-in Cinema, opened in 1997 and closed in 2011.