I took on a pair of exciting new projects at the beginning of the summer – one of them was the Banana Boat, the tricycle-based sound system that I’ve been cooperating with the Natooke Bicycle Shop on. They make custom fixed gear bicycles of remarkable quality and I’ve been doing music for over a decade so it’s been a good match.

We started with a traditional Chinese pedal-powered tricycle (called a ??? in Chinese, or simply three-wheeled vehicle), but we’re stepping up to a fully custom made bamboo cargo bicycle frame. It’s been under construction for about a month, since our original Banana Boat was stolen outside of the bike shop (due to plain negligence, not some crafty thievery).

As soon as that’s complete I’ll post photos and information on how the cargo bike was designed and constructed, but until then I’ll just post a collection of outdoor movie night flyers along with some info on the movie night events we’ve been doing this summer. We’ve done other events with the Banana Boat – group bicycle rides and street parties, but the outdoor movie concept is the one that I’ll focus on in this post.

Chengdu Outdoor Movie Nights

All of these events took place in the same alley in the Yulin neighborhood where I live. Sundays at 8pm we’d show up with our tricycle playing music while we set up our projector and laptop to show the movie of the week. How did we select movies? Each film has nostalgic or cultural value that we felt added meaning to our mostly Chinese audience. On our most successful nights, there were crowds of nearly 100 people, watching English language movies with Chinese subtitles in the Chengdu streets.

Our Equipment Setup

You can’t just watch a movie anywhere unless you have the right equipment for it. And I gotta say, we are pretty much kitted up for this. Here are the pieces that we assembled:

  1. Mobile Sound System: in our case this means two matching speakers to provide stereo sound, with each one having a 12″ woofer to provide clear sound to 100+ people. Each speaker is self-powered, and I don’t just mean that they have amps in them: they have huge batteries in them, too. We can charge these speakers and have about four hours of use before they run out of batteries.
  2. High Powered Projector: we project movies onto the side of buildings and walls. The image can be as large or as small as we want it, which in some cases was as large as 10 meters wide. The projector we use is an Acer with 3,000 lumens that is capable of 720p output. Most of the movies we watched were projected in high definition.
  3. A Power Source: when you’re outside, you probably won’t have access to a power outlet. You need your own power source. Ours is a boat battery, which looks like two car batteries combined into one huge battery. Why use a boat battery? Because it’s a deep cycle battery, which means that it’s designed to provide steady output, as opposed to bursts of electrical output like a car battery. In practical terms this means it lasts much longer. In addition to the battery, we also need an inverter which converts the DC (direct current) power to usable AC (alternating current).
  4. Transportation: for us, this is the Banana Boat. Together, all this equipment is around 40 pounds
  5. Miscellaneous: a laptop to play the movie from with Chinese subtitles set up, cables to connect everything, 20 plastic stools, and a case of cold beer which we unload when we arrive at our destination. When the movie’s over we usually play music on the speakers and throw around a frisbee for a while before leaving.

Outdoor Movies We’ve Watched This Summer

  • Big Trouble in Little China: ¬†incredible nostalgic value to Americans who grew up in the 1980’s, and also an American cinematic perspective on Chinese culture, which differs greatly from China’s perception of itself.
  • Ferris Beuller’s Day Off: ¬†a movie which embraces the most American of character traits: individualism and opposition to authority. Certainly an alien one to Chinese society. As a bonus: one of my favorite movies of all time.
  • Rush Hour: African American and Chinese culture intersect in this movie filled with kung fu and slapstick humor. American black culture will shock Chinese people (“Don’t you ever touch a black man’s radio, boy!”)
  • Breaking Away: a film about a boy’s love affair with bicycle racing, promoted by Natooke. An award-winning film which was nominated for the Academy Award for best film in 1979 (interesting fact: also nominated that year was Apocalypse Now, both of which lost to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman)
  • Let the Bullets Fly: the best modern Mainland Chinese movie, in my opinion, and one which is set in Sichuan and features a lot of Sichuanese local dialect. This one was a huge hit for the street audience and many foreigners were introduced to the film when we showed it
  • Napolean Dynamite: the oddball early 2000’s comedy about an oddball American high school student in Idaho. In retrospect, this movie was a little too deadpan in it’s comedic delivery to be really understood by a Chinese audience

Although summertime is coming to a conclusion, we still have a few outdoor movie nights left. I’ll be sure to enjoy them.