Limitless and Conspicuous Consumption in Jakarta – USD$200 to Watch a Movie!?!?!

An article in the Jakarta Globe 31/5 made me think. My critics will no doubt comment that this is an unwonted activity for yours truly, but go ahead, that’s what the comments column is for!

The item concerned the dispute which is currently preventing new USA movies reaching our local cinemas in Jakarta. I’ll let the JG explain that.

The standoff between the tax department and the Motion Picture Association over levies on imported films has dragged on for months, leaving Indonesian viewers in the dark when it comes to the latest Hollywood releases.

I usually take in a movie once a week.

This week it was ‘Limitless,’ a slightly weird but enjoyable film with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, which somehow arrived here in Jakarta despite the current problems.

It is well worth watching, even though the character played by Anna Friel looks a bit rough compared to this picture I found to delight you. Abbie Cornish has a larger role, which she fills to perfection, as another photo culled from the internet exemplifies.

It’s so cheap here, $US 2 or 3  per person, nice comfy seats, air-con (sometines too chilly, but you can wear a hat and a jacket!) and I like the local horror flicks. There are plenty of Western movies, so either they sneak through or they are arriving late, but who cares?

Evidently a lot of people, for the JG tells us that the the ongoing foreign film boycott fiasco has led some moviegoers to go above and beyond to satisfy their addiction.’

It goes on to describe how ‘committed film buffs Johannes Prayudhi and Ratna Dewi flew to neighboring countries over the weekend to catch up on what they’ve been missing.’

Johannes, a 30-year-old who works in finance in Jakarta, flew out to Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday morning with a couple of friends, and returned very late on Saturday night….he and his friends went to see “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Fast Five,” the fifth installment of the “Fast and Furious” series.

The weekend before that, he flew to Singapore for a movie marathon to see “Thor,” “Insidious” and the long-awaited “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” To kill time between the midnight show and the first flight back to Jakarta, he and his friends went to the 24-hour casino at Marina Bay Sands instead of looking for a hotel.

As the article says, ‘trips like these aren’t cheap. Plane tickets to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore can cost upward of Rp 500,000 ($60) each way, not including food, accommodation and, of course, movie tickets.’  The maid next door is probably lucky if she gets his expenditure for that trip as her entire monthly wage. That’s what made me think, mate.

Another example of this conspicuous consumption mentioned is that lassie named Ratna Dewi, ‘a 29-year-old editor for a film and technology magazine, said she usually went to the theater three or four times a week. While her friends spend their money on clothes, shoes and the latest gadgets, Ratna’s main hobby is discovering new films. “Films keep me sane,” she said. “For me, my mental health is much more important than money.” That’s why she was willing to break the bank to fly to Singapore over the weekend to catch showings of “Thor,” “Fast Five,” “Priest,” “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” and the new “Pirates.”

Ratna told the Globe that ‘at least 20 percent of the audience watching “Thor” at Singapore’s Lido Cineplex during her visit appeared to be Indonesian visitors.’

Both these young people try to cut corners, staying at the cheapest available accommodation, but even so,  in a country where most people struggle just to keep body and soul together, it is surely just a little disturbing to think of folks flying abroad just to see a movie. Especially when there are lots to see right here.

I checked my sms 2121 movie info last night, and at Blok M Plaza cinema, a perfectly nice place to watch films, you can this week enjoy –
Source Code, Limitless, Deaths of Ian Stone, Scream4, and something called Lost Bladesman, presumably an Asian film…enough to be going on with. But Ratna’s film outing, including plane tickets, hostel room, meals and cinema tickets, came to about Rp 2 million!

“That’s probably equal to the amount I saved by not going to the cinema for three months,” she said.

But even if you don’t care for any of those above, you can go to Ratu Plaza, or Glodok, or almost anywhere in town, like Blok M bus terminal, where I pass through most days and evenings, and buy a DVD, for under a dollar! Why don’t they do that? It’s hardly a secret – even the JG report mentions that ‘Indonesia’s pirated DVD vendors have reportedly enjoyed a 50 percent jump in demand since the boycott started.’ This contrasts with a 60 percent drop in income, according to Djonny Sjafruddin, head of the Indonesian Cinema Companies Union (GPBSI).

Dian Sunardi, head of marketing at Blitzmegaplex, said the cinema chain suffered a decline of around 15 percent to 20 percent in ticket sales this season compared to the same period last year.

Well, I do sympathise with the cinemas, but I still find it hard to empathise with Ratna’s obsessive attitude.  As a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, Ratna practically has her bags packed and ready to go. “The Harry Potter finale is crucial because I’ve been keeping up with all the films for seven years,” she said. “I’d just about cry tears of blood if I didn’t get to watch it.”

Uuuh…how old is she? My offspring might have spoken thus aged five or six years old, but this young lady is TWENTY NINE!

Before you all jump in and ask how much I spend on my weekends, I am not advocating that we all don hair-shirts. Of course I work to live, not live to work, but there surely ought to be some sense of proportion…anyway, I am notorious as a skinflint.

But again, as I have previously retorted to snob expats who look down on me for mixing with Indonesians in their warungs and public buses, flaunting one’s income is hardly meritorious. Quite the reverse – it is offensive. 

And I find it all the worse when rich Indonesians do so, their affluence rubbed in the noses of their less fortunate fellow-citizens.

Just buy a DVD, or be patient. When enough cash changes hands, above or below the board, the movies will come flooding back in.