“Are you sure? But the screen is over there…”

He giggled with bemusement and pointed at the block labeled “Screen” on the movie theater’s computerized seating chart, then at the seats we’d just chosen for the 5:10pm showing of The King’s Speech. We figured these were the best spots available: about 9 or 10 rows up from the front and almost square in the middle. A sweet spot in one of the multiplex’s smaller theaters. Nobody else in the row. Nearly every seat was taken just a few rows behind us, save for a few straggling empties on the ends.

But our SF World Cinema ticket clerk, a skinny Thai teen with oil-black hair stylized into the type of hairspray-coated fluff that’s popular with guys under 25 in Bangkok, thought we were nuts, or maybe just hopelessly confused. Surely we weren’t foolish enough to sit that close to the screen, not with a handful of side-by-side seats still available in otherwise jam-packed rows towards the back of the theater.

He couldn’t bear to see us voluntarily damn ourselves to the dank bowels of Theater 9 hell–where we’d crane our necks and squint upwards at undiscernible blobs of color splashing across the screen–and clicked the two seats he felt were the sensible option: second-to-last row, middle, two of only five or six seats open in the row, all rows in front of us completely full. They were, in the eyes of this and presumably most Thais, the cozy option.

We declined his seating-chart life raft, returned the bemused smile, and against his better judgement he confirmed the seats and handed us our tickets. About 30 minutes and what felt like 10 bad movie previews later, we all rose for the traditional tribute to King Bhumibol and I turned around to survey the theater: almost every seat was taken… except, we were two of only five people in our row, and there was nobody in front of us.

The seats were perfect, but the Thai movie-going public clearly did not agree.