The number of movie theaters in Hong Kong has been falling since the 1980s due to competition from other forms of entertainment such as the television, video games and karaoke.
The rampant piracy in the VCD market has also taken a heavy toll on the cinema industry.
At one point the number of theaters across the city fell to 45 and the number of movie screens dropped to 194.
But the tide has turned and the theater business is gradually recovering. As of September, there were 48 cinemas and 216 screens in the city. With new projects in the pipeline, the numbers are expected to grow further to 50 and 230, respectively, by next year.
The Golden Computer Centre in Sham Shui Po has experienced such shifts in the industry first hand.
More than 50 years ago, the mall used to be the location of Golden Theater. Opened in 1962, the theater witnessed the golden era of Hong Kong’s film industry. In those days, there were more than a dozen theaters in the district, which enjoyed wide patronage since residents had few other options for entertainment back then.
But as the number of moviegoers declined and the film industry was beset by pirated copies, the theater was forced to close down in 1991. The site was transformed into Golden Computer Centre, a shopping mall selling mostly computers, phones, accessories, and – ironically – pirated VCDs of local and foreign movies.
The market for pirated VCDs, however, has faded out in recent years as people can easily access free movies on the internet.
On the other hand, there is a resurgence of interest in watching movies in an honest-to-goodness cinema.
No wonder, the landlord of the Golden Computer Centre has decided to lease half of the space of the sprawling complex to UA Cinemas, which will open a theater at the site early next year.
Of course, people can always watch the latest pirated movies online for free by using BitTorrent and other software for video streaming. And many can afford to buy the latest LED flat-screen TV and other audio-visual equipment to build their own home theater. So why would they bother to go to a real theater?
The answer is that new technology has brought us too much convenience. We can get entertainment, do shopping and chat with others on the internet. A smartphone can satisfy all those needs. But all these technological advances have often made people feel even more isolated.
Humans need real contacts with other people. Social interaction in person is an entirely different experience compared with sharing or liking activities in the cyber world.
That’s why we see more and more joining Halloween and other festive activities, book fairs, marathons – as well as watching movies in commercial theaters.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 14
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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