Hong Kong Cinema – Meeting its imminent death or is there a new opportunity?

While one of the largest cinema chains closed down, an independent cinema opened last month. With the unending pandemic and convenience of online streaming platforms, what does the future hold for Hong Kong cinema? Is it doomed to die down, or are we seeing a way out?

The Dusk

With continuous operational pressure under COVID-19, the 36-year-old UA Cinemas chain rolled down its curtains earlier this month. Six of the company’s remaining theatres had to cease their operation at once. 

  • K11 Musea and UA K11 Art House had shut-down a month before the chain made the official announcement to fully end its operation
  • K11 Art House is now taken over by another cinema chain – MCL Cinemas
Extracted from UA Cinemas website

Since COVID-19 hit the city, the theatres have not been operating to their full capacity. As one of the city’s largest cinema chains, UA could hardly sustain its business even with the government’s anti-pandemic support.

  • The troubled cinema had the option to receive HK$50,000 or HK$100,000 for each outlet, capped at HK$3 million for each cinema circuit under the coronavirus

However, with zero income over the six months and the high rent on its shoulder, the company could not help but close down. 

Right now, the UA Cinemas still has a couple of unsettled rent bills to its landlords – Hang Lung Properties and Wharf Real Estate Investment, amounting to HK$9 million. Despite its mounting financial debts, it managed to pay its staff severance pay at once. 

UA Cinemas was founded by Ira Kaye, a late Jewish businessman. The famous cinema chain that a lot of Hong Kong people had grown up with was once the pioneer of many cinematic experiences. In 1985, it brought in the mini-theatre concept, the private luxurious theatre – Director’s Club in 2001 and IMAX screens in 2007. 

The Rise

Amid the devastating pressure under COVID-19, a new cinema – Golden Scene Cinema opened in Kennedy Town last month. Housed in a former church, operating with four screens, the cinema is providing 283 seats in total. 

The founder, Winnie Tsang Lai-fun, distributes, and occasionally produces films. Tsang established this independent cinema as to allow local and foreign movies produced by smaller firms to gain traction in Hong Kong.

Even though Tsang has worked in the film industry for decades, opening this cinema was not easy. Many believe that the industry outlook would be unsatisfactory for the coming couple of years. Some of Golden Scene’s investors even pulled out at the last minute in March, just before the cinema opened. 

Political instability is also something to be worried about. Last Sunday, 22nd of March, Golden Scene was supposed to be hosting the premiere of the award-winning documentary – Inside the Red Brick Wall. Soon after the announcement of the premiere, the popular documentary was sold out in a very short period of time. However, to avoid unwanted misunderstanding, Golden Scene had called back the showing of the documentary.

What’s There In The Future? 

Industry experts, Hung Cho-sing, chairman of the Hong Kong Motion Picture reveals on South China Morning Post that the collapse of cinema chain like UA is inevitable. Hong suggested that focusing on the Mainland market is the key to the long-term sustainability of Hong Kong’s cinema industry. 

“Local film companies should co-produce with the Chinese companies to distribute movies in domestic Chinese cities,” suggested Hung. 

The numbers of cinema visitors in Mainland China had recorded a rebound after COVID-19 got under control. 

With all the limitations we see now – the global pandemic, political instability, and more, could the individual cinema go far? 

Luckily, from what we see until now, Golden Scene is still gaining momentum. Loads of blockbuster film fans are queuing up for local curated movies the cinema provides, even under the pressing coronavirus period. 

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