I don’t even remember where I heard about it, but way back in 2011, I backed a film project on Kickstarter called Arcade: The Last Night at Chinatown Fair. It was to be a documentary on the final days of a New York City video arcade and the gaming community it affected.
Now, I have never been to New York City, let alone NYC’s Chinatown. And I had never even heard of Chinatown Fair until the Kickstarter project came to my attention. But as a dedicated gamer, an arcade nostalgic, and a self-professed videogame historian, the very idea of the film resonated with me.
So I threw down $50 to help out. Now, I know as well as anyone that 50 bucks doesn’t get you too far when making a movie, but that tier got my name in the credits, a DVD copy of the film, and a cool Chinatown Fair t-shirt, so I felt I certainly got my money’s worth.
And I waited. The producers of the film, Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin, kept their backers well-informed with updates on the status of the film, and as time rolled by, I got more and more excited to see it. But six years is a long time, and eventually, my attitude dwindled down to “well, I trust them, so I guess I’ll see it when I see it.”
So when they announced in February 2017 that the film would finally be available digitally, my enthusiasm grew again, but I never did get around to using my backer-only pass to stream it early — I wanted to wait until I had my physical copy.
That physical copy — on Blu-ray no less, not just DVD — showed up a few days ago. And today I finally got to see this long-awaited film, now titled The Lost Arcade.
It was so worth the wait.
It seems that in the time that followed the initial idea of making of the movie, the story of Chinatown Fair evolved, and the film followed along with it. It was no longer about just the closing of a grimy little hole-in-the-wall arcade that was well-loved by a rabid local arcade-gaming community, it was about the people involved and where they went from there.
Without telling you everything, basically CF was a long-running amusement arcade which catered to some of NYC’s most dedicated gamers, especially those in the fighting game community. Finally hurting too much from the advancement of home consoles — much like the rest of the arcade scene in the US — owner Sam Palmer was forced to close CF’s doors, leaving its loyal visitors without a home. Manager Henry Cen opened a new business, called Next Level, which had some arcade machines but mostly held high-level fighting game tournaments on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, and live-streamed the matches online. Meanwhile, another investor stepped in and reopened Chinatown Fair, but was it the same as it once was? Well, I said I’m not telling you everything. See the movie.
The Lost Arcade ended up being a very emotional story not about videogames, but about people and their passions, and how they deal with the loss of something so important to their lives. In many ways, it encapsulates the story of the entire American arcade business on this one microcosmic level, because what happened to CF happened to every arcade, and the feelings of its patrons were and are the feelings of every arcade gamer who misses what we once had.
The whole thing is told from a very honest, personal perspective, with some gorgeous cinematography. At only 77 minutes, it may seem short, but there is so much raw emotion and passion packed into the film that it seems much longer.
Thanks so much to Kurt Vincent and Irene Chin for making such a wonderful, honest film about gaming and gamers, which really illustrates how much videogames can mean to their fans, and how games are not just about wasting some time and money, but the power they have to create camaraderie, community, and positivity. Please, please support this film. Rent or buy it digitally, buy a physical copy, go see it if it’s screening anywhere near you. Find it at www.arcademovie.com.