Deciphering Hong Kong, Hong Kong popular Culture, The Hong Kong Fixer

Where have the Empire Cinemas gone?


When I arrived in Hong Kong, the place was still dotted by old style cinemas, echos of an English colonial past. The leathered seats were a bit squeaky, the attendants, dressed as hotel grooms, were a bit grumpy, the tickets were handprinted and your seat number was marked with a fat red color pencil…. no e ticketing, no fancy wine bar, no vibrating 4D seats.

I used to go all the time to the Cathay in Wan Chai (which closed in 1997 is now a residential building) but my first and favorite was the Queens theater in Central. It was so convenient to grab a film right in the heart of the business district.. and going for a lunch time flick felt like a rebellious act, a way to find peace in the busy-ness of hectic HK. This is where I had my first local experience of Hong Kong films and a taste of the local culture. I truly open my eyes to HK ‘ s local culture when I watched  “Young and Dangerous” (Gu wak zai: mafia boys, literally smart boys) with Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan (more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_and_Dangerous_1) And that was at the Queen’s theater.

Before that, I am afraid my knowledge of HK was still stuck on the Bruce Lee’s image, which is important of course, but is just a small part of the local psyche. And my first HK’s sex emotions also happened at the Queen’s: that was when my sensual world was turned upside down with “Sex and Zen II” (more on the excellent site HKCinemagic http://www.hkcinemagic.com/en/movie.asp?id=1235)… ahh Mirage Lady (well she turns male at the end but still, Shu Qi…).

Anyway, it is at the Queen’s theater that I decided to learn Cantonese. Before each film, there was a government warning preroll forbidding the audience to smoke in the cinema hall. Before the very british translation was on, there was this very funny sounding Cantonese statement that I could not make sense of. At all! So I thought that, since I was going so often to the Cinema, that would be a great way to start making out what is a syllable, what is word, a phrase and try, as a modern Champollion to make sense of it all by matching the words with the following english version. The smoking ban announcement was my Rosetta stone!

So, fifteen years later, and hours of intensive learning after, here it goes:

FONG TSENG FU YU HEI YUN CHEUNG LOI, YIM KAM KAP YIN, WAI LAI DJE, ZHEUI GO FAT FUN GONG BAI NGH CHIN!

This was translated, in a very Oxford voice, as “Government warning, smoking in cinemas is now prohibited, offenders will be liable to a fine of 5000 dollars”

Of course, now, it is forbidden to smoke everywhere in Hong Kong (there is even talk of banning smoking on the streets) so the warning has disappeared.

And just as the smoke in the cinema hall, the building itself has vanished. The 46 year old iconic Luk Hoi Tong building at 31 Queen’s Road  has met the wreckers ball, and I was one of its last client. Out with old, and on with the new…..still, the new development will be a gleaming 27 storey office tower… no more cinema in Central!

Here I am, in an article of the South China Morning Post, covering the disapearance of Queen’s theater