Ho Chapman (何澤民): Movie Producer, Theater Owner and Developer of the Imperial Hotel

York Lo: Ho Chapman (何澤民): Movie Producer, Theater Owner and Developer of the Imperial Hotel

Ho Chapman Image 1 York Lo

Article and picture of Ho Chapman and his plans to develop the Imperial Hotel in 1959 after returning to HK from Manila aboard the APL liner “President Cleveland”. (WKYP, 1959-5-18)

Ho Chapman was a notable figure in the HK movie industry from the 1930s to the 1960s as a movie producer making some of the first co-border productions in the region and later a theater owner in partnership with Hari Harilela and Lee Po-lam(because of that we will focus more on other aspects of his career in this article). He also teamed up with Harilela to develop the Imperial Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and ran it as its managing director in the 1960s and 1970s, even after it went public and became San Imperial under the control of rogue Malaysian Chinese financier C.K. San.

Man Sang Films and Vistan-Chapman

Ho Chapman Image 2 York Lo

Left: Ho Chapman and his future wife Lola Young (left) speaking with Lady Grantham (right) about the production of “Sanda Wong” in 1955 (WKYP, 1955-7-11); Right: Ho Chapman and Lola with Chou Shu-kai, then ROC Ambassador to the Philippines in 1955 (WKYP, 1955-10-3)

Born in Hong Kong in 1913 (based on US immigration records, 1947), Ho was the son of Ho Lui-hap (何侶俠), a follower of Sun Yat-sen and Hu Hanmin who was a military commander in the revolutionary government in Kwangtung before becoming a businessman in HK. In Hong Kong, Ho Lui-hap built a magnificent building at 54 Village Road in Happy Valley which still stands and in 1940 became the owner of a tin mine at Tai Tong in partnership with Lui Yum-suen (see article), three years before he died during the Japanese occupation in HK in February 1943.

Chapman attended King’s College in Hong Kong from 1926 to 1931 and Lingnan University in Canton from 1931 to 1933 before spending a year at the University of the Philippines to study sugar factory management. He then enlisted in the army of Chen Chitong before entering the movie industry in HK in 1937 by establishing Man Sang Films (民生影業). At Man Sang, he made the Chinese version of “Thief of Baghdad” (賊王子)starring Nancy Chan (陳雲裳, 1921-2016) and Ma Sze-tsang in 1938 and “Boxer Rebellion”, allegedly the first Chinese/English mixed dialogue film in HK in the summer of 1939.

After the War, Chapman served as South China manager for Rank Organization from 1945 to 1947 before starting China Cinema Enterprises (中國影業)in 1947 and restarting Man Sang in 1948. Man Sang produced the Cantonese movie “Reformed Wife” (改造太太)in 1954 starring Lola Young, the daughter of a French mother and a Chinese father and Helen Li Mei (李湄, 1929-1994), a participant in the 1952 Miss Hong Kong pageant. (Hong Kong Who’s Who, 1973)

Ho Chapman Image 3 York Lo

Poster for Sanda Wong produced by Chapman Ho in 1955 featuring his wife Lola Young. Noticed the emphasis on the fact that it was “filmed in romantic, scenic, mysterious Hongkong”

In 1955, Ho Chapman teamed up with Filipino producer Manuel Vistan and formed Premiere Productions Inc. to produce the movie“Sanda Wong”(蛇魔復仇記), the first Filipino movie shot in Hong Kong and one of the first cross-border joint productions in the Far East. Directed by Gerardo de Leon, the film featured Lola Young and an all-Filipino cast as Chinese characters. The movie was shot in Tagalog but dubbed in Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese for distribution in multiple markets and Lola Young as a result became one of the first HK stars with Filipino following. The movie also received a lot of publicity in both HK and Chapman and Vistan had an audience with Governor and Lady Grantham during which they presented an autographed photo of Filipino President Ramon Magsaysay to the Governor.

Chapman and Vistan followed “Sanda Wong” with another pioneering film, “Treasure of General Yamashita” (山下奉文寶藏), which was produced in 1957 and released in 1958 featuring once again Lola Young, Leopoldo Salcedo from the Philippines and Mito Mitsuko from Japan and shot in HK, Philippines and Japan. Chapman directed the film himself and signed a deal with Topaz Film for distribution of the film in the US (WKYP, 1957-4-23) In July 1962, Ho Chapman married his star Lola Young in Paris. The next year (1963), Chapman entered into partnership with the Italian firm Lord Industrial to produce “Nights and Beaches”, which was shot in Italy and the Far East and in Italian and English. According to his bio entry, Ho Chapman directed, scripted and produced over 50 films.

From movie production, Chapman moved into movie theatres by opening the Golden Theatre in Shamshuipo in September 1962 (he was also chairman of Golden Restaurant near the theater which was incorporated in 1963 and dissolved in 1980) and the Golden Gate Theatre in 1964 in partnership with Lee Po-lam and Hari Harilela. He also formed Harilela Chapman International Pictures in 1963 to make films in Japan.By then however, he had shifted his attention to the movies to the hotels business.

The Building of the Imperial Hotel (帝國酒店) and its First Decade

Ho Chapman Image 4 York Lo

Ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the Imperial Hotel in 1961. Left to right: the Filipino chairman of the hotel, Luz Santiago Lacson (wife of Manila mayor Arsenio Lacson), Hari Harilela, Padma Harilela (KSEN, 1961-1-21)

In the late 1950s, Ho Chapman became interested in the tourism business as HK began to emerge as a popular tourist destination. In 1957, Ho Chapman formed Mann Yip Development Ltd (萬業建設) to engage in property development. Teaming up with the tailor king Hari Harilela and Filipino interests, Chapman through Mann Yip and the newly formed Imperial Hotel Ltd (燕濱大帝國酒店) between 1958 and 1960 on Nathan Road which was emerging as the “Golden Mile” of tourism in HK. Mann Yip was renamed Hong Kong Estates in 1960 and the same year, Chapman incorporated twotravel agencies -Mayfair Tour & Travel Service (美華旅行社)with branches inHK and Tokyo managed by Kwok Ngar-hung and HK Travel Bureau (香港旅遊社) was managed by Yaqub Khan and co-owned with the Harilelas.

In January 1961, the 19-story, 220 rooms Imperial Hotel opened at 32 Nathan Road by Luz Lacson, the wife of the mayor of Manila. The ground floor of the hotel was the Harilela Emporium while the first floor as the Imperial Restaurant and the 18th and 19th floors was the Tokyo Restaurant serving Japanese and Western food.  (KSDN, 1961-1-21)

In its early years of the Imperial Hotel, most of its senior management came from the Philippines but Ho Chapman eventually became in charge of its day to day operations as managing director. In 1963, he built the 10-story Holly Mansion (豪麗大廈) near Miramar Hotel and owned 21-23 Cross Street in Wanchai through Lee Fat Investment Co Ltd and the former site of Melbourne Hotel at the intersection of Mody and Nathan Road through Kowloon Estates Investment Ltd in the 1960s.

In 1967, Ho traveled to Switzerland, Spain and France and was working on the Golden House Nightclub (金屋夜總會) and Star Bowl in Tsim Sha Tsui. (KSEN, 1967-4-22)

Ho Chapman Image 5 York Lo

A Chinese tour group from Japan hosted by Ho Chapman’s Mayfair Tour in HK in 1963 (KSDN, 1963-4-7)

In July 1970, Imperial Hotel Holdings was formed as the holding company for Imperial Hotel and three other subsidiaries (HK Estatesmentioned earlier, Golden Imperial Hotel and Golden Imperial Management) with Sir S.N. Chau as chairman, Hari Harilela as vice chairman and Ho Chapman as managing director. The firm with $36 million in capital issued 1.8 million new shares at $5 apiece on the Far East Exchange with Chau’s HK Chinese Bank as underwriters. At the time of the IPO, the firm promoted dividend yield of 9% being the highest of all hotel stocks in HK. (KSEN, 1970-7-20)

In August 1971, the Imperial Hotel rolled out seafood meals available for HK$10 per set and based on Ho Chapman’s research of Italian, French and Spanish cuisine. (WKYP, 1971-7-31)

For fiscal year 1970-71, Imperial recorded profits of HK$4.8 million, which S.N. Chau as chairman commented as satisfactory given the sluggish environment that year. The firm had acquired a 10500 sq ft site at 56-72 Canton Road and first of two construction phases with John Lok & Partners (see article) as contractor had begun at 58-66 Canton Road. The building was completed as the Imperial Building (帝國大厦) with over 100 residential flats selling for $180 per sq ft and shops for $200 per sq ft. (WKYP, 1971-10-14)

Ho Chapman Image 6 York Lo

Article and picture of the development of the Imperial Building in 1972 (WKYP, 1972-2-25)

For fiscal year ending June 1972, Imperial recorded profits of $4.7 million, an increase of 10% from the prior year and its net assets was $46 million, an increase of $8.5 million from the prior year. (KSEN, 1972-9-20)

San Imperial (山帝國)

In July 1972, San Holdings (山實業) from Malaysia gained control of Imperial Hotel Holdings, which increased its capital from HK$36 million to HK$50 million. (KSEN, 1972-7-21) According to press reports at the time, San Holdings which was founded and controlled by the Toisanese financier Choo Kim-san (曹錦山, who went by C.K. San and hence many of his companies had names starting with the character “San”)allegedly have assets of over HK$150 million with interests in construction, hotels, timber, electronics and financial services throughout Southeast Asia and recently acquired a plot on Connaught Road Central with plans to develop a 20-story office tower. (WKYP, 1972-8-8)San’s Malaysia Borneo Finance (MBF) which claimed to be the largest financial service firm in Brunei and East Malaysia opened its branch in HK in 1969 and offered deposit box services in 1971 via Malaysia America Finance HK (WKYP, 1971-4-7). Once the takeover went through, San immediately announced plans to acquire 40% of the Bank of Trade in San Francisco via Imperial through issuance of new shares and also bought the nearby August Moon Hotel for HK$10 million in shares in August. (WKYP, 1972-7-27)

As a result of the takeover, C.K. San replaced S.N. Chau as chairman of the firm and directors Chau Kai-yin, Ronald Li, Edward Woo and Harilela were replaced by three individuals associated with San – including lawyer Melville Ives, an accountant and a Malay prince in August 1972 and Imperial Hotel Holdings was renamed San Imperial Corporation in October 1972 while Ho Chapman stayed on as managing director.(KSEN, 1972-8-24)

In little over four years however, the San empire imploded and in November 1976, the 50-year-old C.K. San skipped town after he was charged by the HK police with 9 counts of fraud committed in August 1972 involving over HK$16 million in funds. (KSDN, 1976-11-3)

Ho Chapman Image 7 York Lo

Left: Ad for deposit boxes for the new HK branch of C.K. San’s Malaysia America Finance (MAF) in 1972 (WKYP, 1972-11-7); right: article about the police warrant for C.K. San in 1976 with his picture. (KSDN, 1976-11-3)

After San’s disappearance, Ho, Ives, Hwang Shang-pai and a stockbroker by the name of David Ng Pak-shing were briefly in charge of San Imperial before it was taken over by James Coe (aka Hui Lok-kwan), the husband of famous soprano Barbara Fei,the niece of August Moon Hotel founder Barbara Fok. After that and a lawsuit filed against him and the others by a Malaysian Chinese investor Lee Ing-chee in 1978, Ho Chapman kept a low profile and it is unclear as to when he passed away.

In early 1981, Imperial went on the auction block with starting price of HK$200 million which attracted the interest of developers such as Sino, New World and Wah Kwong. However, the bidding only went up to HK$225 million which the seller was not happy about so they pulled the deal off the market. (WKYP, 1981-4-15) Later in the month however, the seller accepted an offer of HK$227 million from Truro Ltd. controlled by the jeweler turned hotelier Kevin Hsu (see article). (KSEN, 1981-4-27)

Sources (other than those cited above):

http://oggsmoggs.blogspot.com/2012/01/sanda-wong-1955.html

http://www.lawyee.net/Case/Case_Other_HK_Display.asp?Lang=2&RID=35141

List of films produced by Man Sang Films:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=141&display_set=eng

This article was first posted on 24th May 2021.

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