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The Lost Arcade, a Documentary About the Famous Chinatown Fair, Premieres This Month

(Photo by Nick Carr/Scouting New York)

(Chinatown Fair in 2011. Photo by Nick Carr/Scouting New York)

A new film about one of the most historic arcades in the world makes its debut in New York.

“The Lost Arcade” premieres on Nov. 14 and 18 at the DOC NYC documentary film festival.

Directed by Kurt Vincent and produced by Irene Chin, the 79 minute film tells the story about the history, community and culture behind Chinatown Fair, which first opened in 1944. Located on Mott Street in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, the building grew into one of the most famous arcades in the U.S. and across the world.

The screening is at the IFC Center on 323 6th Avenue in New York. The film is also available to pre-order for $9.99 from its official website. The documentary project began in 2011. It originally went to Kickstarter for funding and raised over $29,000 for the project. IGN Entertainment also was involved in the movie.

“The Lost Arcade” documents the last week of Chinatown Fair’s existence and the relationships formed through the arcade. It focuses on different people from its community and how Chinatown Fair changed their lives. A big part of the arcade was the fighting game community, where some of the best competitors around the world like Justin Wong honed their craft at Chinatown Fair, playing Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom and other fighting franchises.

The original Chinatown Fair closed its doors in March 2011 over disputes with the building’s landlord, 67 years after it opened. While it re-opened with new owners in May 2012, many feel the arcade lost its magic, replaced with more family-friendly machines and ticket games you might find at Dave & Buster’s or Chuck E Cheese’s. Former and longtime owner Sam Palmer, a Pakistani immigrant, died in November 2014.

Chinatown Fair began as a penny arcade of coin-operated games during the 1950s. It also doubled as a museum of artifacts and exhibits of Chinese culture, both for the local ethnic population and as a tourist attraction. Later it joined the revolution of arcade video games, becoming a staple of the city and the gaming community.

During the growth of Chinese gangs in the 1970s and ’80s with rival factions and wars, the arcade was in the middle of it all. Parents would warn their children not to go play games there over fear of the different gang members around the neighborhood. Chinatown Fair would become a safe haven for all types of people across New York, a diverse place where everyone could just be themselves. While neighborhoods around New York changed from gentrification, Chinatown Fair was able to retain the city’s former spirit, keeping its grittiness and  authenticity intact. The arcade was even the location of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s music video for the Chinatown version of his 1995 song “Brooklyn Zoo.”

Chinatown Fair was also infamous for the Tic-Tac-Toe Chickens as its iconic sign states, where many years ago live chickens would dance or engage in a game of tic-tac-toe with customers and even end up beating them. The 1984 movie “Falling in Love” with Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep has a scene inside the arcade with the two playing against a chicken.

Arcades were once a cornerstone of video game culture but greatly declined throughout the late ’80s and into the ’90s, being replaced by accessible home consoles with powerful graphics and later on worldwide online gaming. Chinatown Fair was able to remain relevant despite those trends shutting down most other arcades across the country.

Watch the film’s trailer:

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