Central Theatre (中央戲院)

York Lo: Central Theatre (中央戲院)

Central Theatre Image 1 York Lo

Left: ad announcing the opening of Central Theatre with the movie “The Love Parade” in 1930 (SCMP, 1930-6-11); Center: Central Theatre in 1935 (as evidenced by the sign for the Cantonese opera movie); Right: Central Theatre’s ad in 1932 for Douglas Fairbank’s “Around the World in 80 Minutes” (China Mail, 1932-3-23)

For 40 years from 1930 to 1971, the Central Theatre at 270-278 Queen’s Road Central was one of the major movie theaters in Hong Kong.

The theatre, which had 1400 seats (600 seats at the stalls, 422 in the dress circle and 384 in the upper circles), opened in June 1930with the Paramount musical comedy “The Love Parade” and was one of the first in the city to show sound movies or “talkies”. The building was designed by the leading architectural design firm of Palmer & Turner and featured the latest sound equipment installed by Western Electric, painting of marble work by Vannini (competitor of Bigazzi, see article), plumbing by Lee Yu Kee (see article), roof and fire equipment installed by Jardine Engineering and two Otis elevators installed by Dodwell & Co. (HK Daily Press, 1930-6-14)

In the 1930s, Central primarily showed first run English movies from major US studios such as Paramount and showed first run Chinese movies produced in Shanghai and Hong Kong by studios such as United Photoplay Service. (see ads above and below)In 1934, the theater premiered three local movies produced by China Artistic Films (華藝影片公司) and directed by and starring Tony Shak (石友于, 1910-1950), the brother of Lai Chi Kok Amusement founder Stephen Shak and actresses Lam Mui-mui and Fung Kit-ching – “The Wedding Tragedy” (洞房雙屍案), “The Vale of Tears” (苦海) and “Married Life” (婚後的問題).

The original owner of the Central Theatre was Ng Pak-to (吳柏濤 1872-1955), who was the comprador of the British trading firm W.G. Humphreys & Co (紹昌洋行) in the early 20th century and contributed to the establishment of HKU. His sons Ng Sze-cheung (吳仕章) and Ng Sze-kwong (吳仕光) were tennis champions in the 1920s, Sze-cheung worked for the Legislative Yuan in Nanking while Sze-kwong was the first Chinese local to win the HK singles championship in 1918 and the first HK player to play in the Davis Cup. Both brothers signed up to play at the 1924 Olympics in Paris along with Wei Wing-lock (son of Sir Boshan Wei Yuk) and H.H. Khoo (邱飛海) but withdrew after attending the opening ceremony, nevertheless making them the first Chinese athletes attending the Olympics.

Central Theatre Image 2 York Lo

Left: Central Theatre’s ad for the Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanut  (HK Telegraph, 1930-7-3); Right: 1934 English ad for the HK movie “The Wedding Tragedy”

Central Theatre Image 3 York Lo

Left: ad for United Photoplay’s “The Life” starring Ruan Lingyu in 1934 (KSDN, 1934-2-23); Right: ad for United Photoplay’s “Song of the Fishermen” in 1934 (KSDN, 1934-6-17)

The theater was also used for stage performances and social functions such as the graduation ceremony of the Chinese ambulance brigade in 1937 when the 394 graduates received certificates from General Chan Kee-yau. (HK Daily Press, 1937-12-27)

In 1938, the court ruled in favor of the Shaw brothers’ Unique Film Production Co which sought damages of HK$17500 from Ng Pak-to for the failure to show its picture “Poisoned Rose” in 1935 (allegedly due to objections from Lee Hy-lap, the brother of Lee Hysan of Lee Theaters). (China Mail, 1938-2-22)

Central Theatre Image 4 York Lo

Left: Terry Leung speaking at the gathering of the HK Sze Wui&Kwong Ning Clansmen Association(四會廣寧同鄉會)as president of the group in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-4-29); Right: ad for the movie Social Register starring Colleen Moore in 1934 (KSDN, 1934-11-15)

During the Japanese occupation, Central Theatre continued to operate but only showed movies, dramas and Chinese operas approved by the Japanese military administration and hosted functions for the Japanese Army. In September 1944, Ip Wai-wah, detective with the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs, entered into partnership with Terry Leung Chuen-wah (梁傳華) to form Wah Wai Company and leased the Central Theatre from Ng Pak-to to become its operator. After the end of the War, Ng entered into profit sharing arrangement with Wai Wah for several years, but disputes eventually arose ending in lawsuits in 1949-1950.  (China Mail, 1949-7-14) Ng, who resided at 119 Caine Road, died in June 1955 at the age of 83 and left an estate worth over $3.5 million. (KSEN, 1956-10-6)

In the 1950s and 1960s, Terry Leung ran Central Theatre and was supported by his younger brother Leung Chuen-che (梁傳柱,7 years his junior) as house manager. The theater focused on showing first run Chinese movies during this area. Outside of the Central Theatre, Terry Leung also ran Terry Films Co (多利影業) and Wing Yiu Printing Company (榮耀印刷) and invested in the Hong Kong Musical Troupe (香港歌舞團). (KSDN, 1956-8-12)

Terry Films was involved in the distribution of many Cantonese films in the 1950s and 1960s and was involved in the production of at least two films – “Made Duke at Thirteen” (十三歲封王) in 1961 and “Refoundation of Kingdom Qi” (陣陣美人威) in 1966, both of which starring Fung Wong-nui and directed by Wong Hok-sing (黃鶴聲).

In 1962, Leung’s wife Liu Yan-yin (廖恩賢) died of cancer at the age of 58 at their home. A native of Bao-an (vicinity of HK), Liu was a devout Christian and followed her father to America at a young age before returning to HK and married Leung. (KSDN, 1962-3-8)

In August 1967, Terry Leung and his brother and three staff members were injured when they got into a fight with a 30 year old male customer at the Central Theatre. (KSDN, 1967-8-10)

In November 1970, Terry Leung died at the age of 62 and was buried at the Pokfulam Chinese Christian Cemetery. He was survived by his second wife Ho Yuk-kwan (何玉群), 5 sons (Sai-wing, Sai-fai, Sai-yiu, Sai-kwong, Sai-ming) and two daughters (Mei-bo and Mei-ling). (WKYP, 1970-11-21)

In March 1971, Sun Hung Kai Enterprises acquired the site of Central Theatre for slightly under HK$4 million and re-developed it into the 22-story Central Mansion.

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/2149758/when-talkies-arrived-hong-kong-cinema

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/34179

This article was first posted on 13th November 2020.

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