Asian Movie Memorabilia Stars in Michaan’s October Annex

This true story involving the Great Star Theatre holds so many twists and turns of fate that it’s almost as dizzying as the martial arts moves projected on the theater’s screen.  It all began with an entrepreneur with a broken heart.  Said businessman wanders the streets of North Beach into Chinatown, trying to make sense of the fight he had had with his girlfriend.  He stumbles upon an abandoned theater and being a real estate refurbisher, he begins to envision the theater’s potential.  He makes a couple of calls, including one to his friend Ken Montero.  Before you know it, the two have become business partners, about to embark on the renovation of San Francisco’s Great Star Theatre.

A promotional movie poster from "The Dragon Tamers."

A promotional movie poster from “The Dragon Tamers.”

Montero’s experience with the theater lead him to an unexpected discovery, which then lead him to Michaan’s Auctions.  The pair took over the theater in 2008.  It had been closed since 1989, along with many other single screen theaters that had fallen on hard times.  But the Great Star Theatre had something going for it that others may have been lacking: history.  After San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, it became the first theater built in Chinatown, erected in 1925.  In 1950, the famed Shaw Brothers Studio took it over and renovated the movie house.  The Shaw Brothers production studio is well-known for kung fu and action classics such as “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” “Five Deadly Venoms” and “The One-Armed Swordsman.”  Their movies also launched the careers of stars like Jet Li, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Gordon Liu and Jimmy Wang Yu.  The Great Star Theatre remains important to this day, as it is the only remaining Chinese theater in any Chinatown in the United States.

Lobby cards featuring stills.

Lobby cards featuring stills from “The Prodigal Son,” “The Great Emporer’s Concubine,” and “A Day Without Policemen.”

Unfortunately, when Montero and his business partner acquired the historical gem, it was in shambles.  It was so filthy and moldy that their first year of ownership was spent cleaning it to the tune of around $10,000.  But, there was something salvageable amongst the rubble.  Montero recalled being in the basement of the theater by the fire equipment.  It was there that he uncovered lobby cards, movie posters and ticket stubs in prime condition from the promotion and sales of popular Asian films.  Montero did not think much of them at the time, but he decided to hold on to them nonetheless.  Lucky for him and Bay Area collectors and movie buffs that he did.  The uncovered collection will now be sold at Michaan’s October Annex Auction, providing a rare opportunity to own unique memorabilia from this Asian movie genre.