When it originally opened in 1925, Great Star Theater staged Cantonese Opera and screened Hong Kong kung-fu movies. Closing as a picture house in the 1990s, this place had a lot of twists, turns and changes of ownership over the years, but reopened in 2021 as a non-profit operation. With retro signs, vintage paintings and a striking marquee greeting you at the entrance, Great Star Theater provides a unique ambiance perfect for hosting theater productions, movie screenings and the enchanting Candlelight concert series.
The theater is conveniently located a block from the new Chinatown Muni station and a stone’s throw from Market St’s Montgomery St Bart station. Situated in the heart of Chinatown, the theater is surrounded by countless eateries and bars, and it’s just a few blocks away from the swanky nightlife of North Beach.
Facts, Curiosities and Interesting Things about Great Star Theater
1. Bruce Lee used to watch opera here
When Bruce Lee was a young child, the Hong Kong-American martial artist would frequent the theater with his friends and family to watch his father, a Cantonese opera singer, perform. Nowadays, the theater screens the icon’s movies regularly and hosts panel discussions and Q&As to delve deep into his legendary filmography.
2. Another theater lived on the same site
Before Great Star Theater was born, another Chinese theater stood where the current one stands. Built in 1868, the Royal Chinese hosted live performances and circus acts until 1940 when a projection booth was installed, allowing the venue to show full-length movies and short films, too. The theater was later renovated and renamed the Great Star Theater in the 1960s.
3. The theater had a huge makeover during the pandemic
In 2021, owners Alice Chu and Roger Pincombe invested $150,000 of their own money to restore the theater to its former glory. At the start of the 21st century, the theater went into rack and ruin and needed quite a lot of TLC. After birds had quite literally left their mark on the venue’s seating, new red upholstery on the theater’s 410 seats was fitted, and 85 new fire sprinklers were installed (the older ones were 50 years out-of-date).
Candlelight concerts at Great Star Theater
Candlelight concerts take music by modern-day icons, timeless composers, and jazz legends and reimagine them in the classical form. This season, talented string quartets taking to the Great Star’s raked stage will be delving into the impressive back catalogs of artists such as Elvis Presley, ABBA and Radiohead. The combination of a theater catering to the new generation and Candlelight’s aim to democratize culture melds perfectly for providing an unforgettable experience.
What else can you do at Great Star Theater?
This film haven is one of few theaters in the USA that’s devoted to screening Mandarin and Cantonese language films. In addition to showing movies everyday, they now also deliver live theater, dance, comedy and even circus shows to the community. You can also catch interesting panel discussions and Q&A sessions here, and learn more about the culture, history and languages of many Asian countries.
The Candlelight series has been adding its signature sea of candles and enchanting classical renditions to magnificent venues across San Francisco for a while now, including Grace Cathedral and the International Art Museum of America. This season, an exciting lineup of candlelit performances is coming to The Great Star Theater – a 1925 gem boasting a traditional proscenium stage.