‘The Lost Arcade’ Review: Revisiting the Glory Days, Closing & Rebirth of Chinatown Fair

The city of New York has played a huge part in the role of thriving communities dedicated to their hobby of choice. There was once a time where the arcade scene flourished; gamers of young and old hopped on the train or bus, walked a few blocks and came upon an indoor haven full of video games. One of the most well-known arcade hotspots back in the day was Chinatown Fair. The Lost Arcade takes its viewers on a nostalgic journey through the early origins, disappointing closing and surprising reopening of such an historic landmark. Not only does this documentary present a closer look at the players and games that made Chinatown Fair renowned, it delves into the many relationships and trends that were cultivated within its small confines.

Director Kurt Vincent and producer Irene Chin do an incredible job showcasing Chinatown Fair through interviews with its most integral figures. We come across several individuals who experienced the arcade boom and crash of the 90’s. Anthony Cali Jr. recounts his memories of getting change just so he could spend hours inside his favorite arcade. We also come across the men who kept the place running well into its final days: Sam Palmer, Henry Cen and Akuma Hokura. Hearing about Akuma’s foster home woes and homelessness is hard to fathom, but to see him transition into a grown man who ends up working alongside Sam and Henry is inspiring. The gamers themselves who’ve spent countless hours practicing their best fighting game combos and music game dance steps can be seen showcasing the youthful atmosphere of Chinatown Fair.

Viewers who are into gaming or have a slight interest in it will adore everything that’s shown to them here. The earliest days of Chinatown Fair are the most intriguing to learn about. A dancing chicken who could defeat anyone in Tic-Tac-Toe used to be the main attraction. Major movies and music videos were filmed inside of it during its glory days. The more segregated and crime ridden period of Chinatown is briefly touched upon as well. And getting to witness Chinatown Fair’s final grace period during the arrival of Street Fighter IV’s arcade cabinet is a nice final hurrah to witness. It’s amazing to see just how far the place has come and its transition from a family friendly arcade to a bustling center full of games for teenagers and adults to enjoy.

This inside look at Chinatown Fair was filmed over the course of five years. When it arrives at the closing period of the arcade, it’s easy to feel sorry for the people who helped it survive for so long. But things quickly brighten up as we learn that Henry and Akuma’s next arcade venture (Next Level) continues to keep the spirit of the old Chinatown Fair alive. The original location gets a surprise reboot in the form of a more family-friendly atmosphere when it’s overtaken by Lonnie Sobel. Watching the reactions of old fans to this new take on Chinatown Fair shows just how hard it is for some to see such changes. But by the film’s end, we get to see two arcades that are still a huge force within their chosen communities.

The Lost Arcade is truly a magnificent documentary. Its visual splendor combines footage of New York City’s past and present, Chinatown Fair’s bright and loud arcade scene and interviews with the people who loved it most. Music composer Gil Talmi creates the perfect atmosphere for the film with his retro sounding tunes that evoke the sounds of classic video games. For those of you who only know about playing video games in your living room via an internet connection, this film is a much needed history lesson for you all. For everyone else, The Lost Arcade is an amazing representation of video game arcades and the unbreakable bonds birthed within them.

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