A TELEPHONE call to Wharf Cable's public relations offices, somewhere in the Stygian back streets of Kowloon, is enough to bring you up short. I made that telephone call last week, was put on hold - presumably while the intended recipient of my glad tidings decided whether he was in a meeting or out of the country - and instead of the dreaded Eines Kleines Nachtmusik or Jingle Bells, got this: 'The country is in the middle of a full-blown rabies outbreak, transmitted primarily by raccoons, foxes and . . .' Not since I went into the men's room at Dan Ryan's and heard a disembodied Neil Armstrong issuing forth from somewhere behind the cistern have I been so discomposed. Not that I'm stupid or anything, but I actually looked behind the cistern, just in case. I remember the days when a man could be kept waiting by a secretary, and relieve himself, in silence. I tell you this for no reason at all, except I was thinking of the closeted Neil Armstrong when I read a letter in this newspaper about noise in cinemas. The writer was a little strident, one of those 'hanging's too good for 'em' types who thinks anyone who does not concur with her opinions on capital punishment should not be allowed to walk the streets, never mind see films. But she had a point and I happen to agree. If use of Hong Kong's cinemas was reserved exclusively for myself and a few close friends the world would be a better place. Hong Kong's cinemas are an ordeal. Most of my visits to Times Square begin with a barney with the doormen about the tins of Marks & Spencer curry in my bag. They argue that no outside food is allowed in the auditorium. I argue that I do not have the right pots and pans to enable me to rustle up a vindaloo during Apollo 13, tinned, fresh or otherwise. If cretins are allowed to keep their mobile telephones, surely I should be allowed to do the same with my curry? These protestations are always in vain, the curry is confiscated, and I am led away muttering insanely about my freedom to carry curry in a public place and shouting 'it's not 1997 yet you know'. The only other countries where I have been to the cinema are Britain and the Philippines. In the Philippines, where I watched a Kris Aquino comedy - and I use the term loosely - most of the audience was asleep. This was not only a reflection on the film. Cinemas in Manila are air-conditioned, which the rest of Manila most definitely is not, and therefore excellent for sleeping, particularly if a Kris Aquino comedy is showing; those availing themselves of the opportunity for a siesta at a Kris Aquino comedy can rest assured that no one will disturb them by laughing. The Philippines has taken a worldwide accepted norm for cinema-going and mucked it up completely. Anywhere else in the world one chooses one's seat, buys one's ticket and sits oneself down with a bag of popcorn five minutes before the advertised starting time (five minutes after the advertised starting time in Hong Kong - I swear the next person who does this will find himself rendered insensible by a carefully aimed tin of curry). But Filipino cinema owners got together at some point in their great country's recent history and decided to come up with the worst possible system by which to operate their businesses. They did a splendid job. Seats are not allocated, which results in a free-for-all. Better still, the films run continuously and people can enter and leave at any point. This means that while it is easy enough to see a film in the Philippines, it is unlikely you will ever get to see one in the right order. People who arrive one-third of the way through leave one-third of the way through. It is confusing if you do not understand the system - but blessed relief if you are watching anything that stars Keanu Reeves. In Philadelphia, which stars Tom Hanks, as most films do, I saw a man die of AIDS, return to life as an assured young lawyer, then get sick and die for a second time at the end (which for many in the audience was the beginning, depending on what time they had arrived). It was nice to see Hanks get sick twice. It made up for the fact that in Forrest Gump he did not get sick at all. The Filipino system, democracy to the extreme, gives rise to all sorts of exciting possibilities. It means, for instance, that you can watch the first five minutes of a Sylvester Stallone film and, having worked out what will happen during the next 85 minutes, leave for a pizza. Or you can watch the last five minutes of a Meg Ryan film, more than enough for you to understand everything that happened in the first 85 minutes. There is no point wasting a whole evening watching Ryan throw tantrums and twitch her cute nose when you can simply turn up for the wedding. The benefits of such a system could be extended beyond the purely cinematic. At Wimbledon, you could watch the fifth set first, skipping the inevitable boredom of the first four. Sampras and Agassi could then play the first four at their leisure, just to fill in the detail for fans with time on their hands. And if we were allowed to enter and leave a Sir Percy Cradock interview at a time of our choosing, and to listen to it in random order, some of what he says might begin to make sense.