One possible solution to all of this: a chain of [legal] private theaters called Wanmu has been opening up in older, less trafficked malls around town, with pro-level AV, a big library of uncut films, and total privacy. They recently opened their third and biggest cinema in Shanghai, so we went by for a look.
(Spoiler alert: They have Evil Dead and you can bring your own snacks.)
Located on the 4th floor of the unfrequented Channel One shopping mall in Putuo, Wanmu Private Theatre has 26 showrooms (each seating between 2–10 people), an upscale internet cafe, and a VR room. On first entry, the place looks equally empty and dull, but starts to look a lot better when you enter the rooms.
While Wanmu's rooms have soft, adjustable sofas, some of the luxuries one might find at those "private lovers cinemas" are noticeably absent. There's no romantic decor, no Hello Kitty pillows, and no satin sheets. In fact, they only change the sheets every two weeks around here. They charge non-members 98rmb per person for two hours, which might sound like a lot until you start getting into the technical side of what's on offer.
- All the rooms have 4K curved projection screens and high-quality surround sound by Dolby, Harman Kardon, or JBL (staff were slightly confused about brands / specs).
- The bigger rooms have the Auro 11.1 speaker layout instead of the standard 7.1 surround that many local cinemas use.
- Staff say the six-member showroom is a scaled-down version of an IMAX theater.
- Rooms have light and comfortable Bluetooth 3D glasses.
Now, SmartShanghai.com is not the leading authority on speaker layouts, but the audio quality here sounds crisp and deep, with a good balance between the front and the back. As for the familiar IMAX countdown intro on the screen, well, it looks pretty close to the one at a mid-scale IMAX 3D cinema. That might have something to do with the battery-operated Bluetooth 3D glasses, which don't dim the screen like many 3D glasses often do.
What About The Movies?
This Wanmu has a simply designed and not-entirely-functional library of 1400 movies. It's Chinese-language only, but you only need to know "上一页" and "下一页" ("previous page" and "next page", respectively). You choose the film with a mouse instead of a remote, which can be a bit inconvenient.
As for the selections, they've got almost all the IMDB Top 250 movies, cult classics like The Thing, The Evil Dead and the Mad Max series (not the newest one, unfortunately), and plenty of new releases, from Warcraft and Me Before You to Bad Neighbor 2. Even recent smaller studio works like Green Room and Elvis and Nixon are on the front page. Quite impressive, though there's nothing too obscure or art house here though.
Wanmu says they have some kind of deal with overseas movie studios, so these films are all legal and uncut copies. We'll have to take their word for it.
How Much Does It Cost? Is It Worth It?
Indeed, this costs considerably more than just buying a DVD or streaming a movie, but unless you're really settled down in Shanghai, you're probably not investing in this level of technology for your apartment. Rooms start at 98rmb per person for two hours (plus a 200rmb cash-only deposit), with one catch: they start to count the time from the moment you enter the room. So, better pick a movie with a running time less than two hours, because they charge for another hour if you go 15 minutes over. To become a member and get the 50% off discount, you need to charge your Wanmu card with a minimum of 1000rmb. Expenditures are then deducted from the card accordingly.
The overall experience is solid, although the music in the shopping mall became quite noticeable when the movie went quiet. On the plus side, you can bring your own food and drinks. If not, they've also got a very small bar selling snacks and soft drinks (didn't see any popcorn, though). Coke is 10rmb, or 5rmb for members. As of last week, the VR area wasn't open to the public yet, but Dianping says they use HTC Vive and are currently selling coupons for 108rmb/hour.
Members get free access to the Internet café
Opening up in older malls without cinemas is a clever strategy, and apparently they're planning on adding one of these each year. Right now they're at Lianhua Plaza, One Prime, and Channel One (heard of those?). Overall, a good option for anyone looking for a cinema-level experience without the annoyances one might meet at an actual public cinema.
Wanmu Channel One is on the 4th floor at 155 Changshou Lu, near Shanxi Lu. The place is a ten-minute walk from the Jiangning Lu station on Lines 7 and Line 13, with plenty of places to eat nearby. More info in our venue listing.