The Chan Family of Sun Wui and the Entertainment Business in HK and Macau

York Lo: The Chan Family of Sun Wui and the Entertainment Business in HK and Macau

Natives of Sun Wui in Guangdong province, the family of Chan Wai-ting has been involved in the entertainment business in Hong Kong and Macau for close to a century through the operations of at least five movie theaters, the Kai Tak Amusement Park covered earlier (see article on Ching Chun-kau) and one of its descendants being the manager for many superstars. Chan Wai-ting’s nephew Chan Kam-toi was the proprietor of a department store but is better known for his six decades of philanthropy, most notably as the hands-on supervisor of many schools.  

Chan Wai-ting (槐庭, 1889-1950) and his sons and their theaters   

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Left: Ming Sing Theatre in Sham Shui Po in 1959 based on the movie poster of “Scholar’s Ghost Wife” (Gwulo); Right: Chan Kwok-wai (second from right) and his wife (first from left) welcoming her uncle Kong Tak-yan (江德仁, see article) at Kai Tak after his Southeast Asian trip in 1974. Left to right: Mrs. Chan, Lau Mei-mui (劉美梅), Chow Sing-lit (周盛烈), Kong Tak-fat(江德發), Kong Tak-yan, Wong Kie-ngok(黃奇岳), Chan, Cho Hin-fat(曹顯發). (KSEN, 1974-2-5) 

Little information is available about family patriarch Chan Wai-ting other than the fact that he started the 870 seat Ming Sing Theatre (明聲戲院) at 236 Lai Chi Kok Road in Sham Shui Po, which operated for close to half a century from 1927 to 1971. As a firm, Ming Sing Theatre Ltd was incorporated in 1929 and dissolved in 1956. 

In December 1950, Chan Wai-ting died in HK at the age of 61 at his residence at 10 Norfolk Road in Kowloon and was survived by four sons (by the order of birth) – Kwok-kit, Kwok-kim, Kwok-king and Kwok-wai. (KSDN, 1950-12-12) He was buried in the Aberdeen Chinese Permanent Cemetery in HK not far from the grave of Ko Ho-ning, the king of pawn shops and co-owner of the Macau gambling concessions. 

In addition to Ming Sing, the sons of Chan Wai-ting operated one theater in Cheung Chau and three theaters in Macau including Teatro Lai Seng (戲院) located at no.4 R. da Barca which was managed by Chan Kwok-kit (陳國) and Teatro Oriental (戲院) located at 12-14 Calçada do Tronco Velho which was managed by Chan Kwok-kim (陳國). Both theaters operated from the 1950s to the early 1970s and after which they were re-developed into buildings. Chan Kwok-kit was a business partner of pro-Beijing Macanese leader Ho Yin and in December 1966, he along with Ho Yin and Ma Man-kei testified at a Macau Chinese Chamber of Commerce gathering calling for the Macanese colonial government to suppress the activities of KMT operatives in Macau and Chan revealed that he was beaten up by a KMT spy in 1958 (TKP, 1966-12-31) 

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Chan Kwok-kit (third from the left) and other Macanese leaders welcome the First Cantonese Opera Troupe (廣東粵劇院第一團) from Guangzhou in Macau in 1960. Left to right: Lau Hang-chung(劉衡仲), Wong Chung Wong (王中王), Chan, Ho Yin (何賢), Fung Kang-wah (馮鏡華), Pak Kui-wing (白駒榮), Ma Man-kei (馬萬祺), Law Pun-chiu (羅品超), Cho Cho-wan (楚岫雲), Law Ka-bo (羅家寶), Siu Kwan Lun (少崑崙), Lee Yin-ching (李燕清), Cheng Yee-man (鄭綺文), Chui Tak-kei (崔德祺). (WKYP, 1960-2-6) 

In Hong Kong, the business was led by Chan Kwok-king (陳國經, 1926-1975), who ranked fifth among his siblings. In addition to managing Ming Sing, he was involved in Kai Tak Amusement Park with Chan Yat-san, Ho Chuen-yiu and Ching Chun-kau. He died in 1975 of heart attack at the age of 49. 

The fourth son Chan Kwok-wai (陳國緯) rank eighth among his siblings. He was a graduate of Hong Kong University and studied law in Canada before returning to HK where he worked at the law firm of Alfred Y.S. Hon (韓潤燊). He married the fifth daughter of Tung Wah director Kong Chit-wong and niece of Keng Fong Sin Kee founder Kong Tak-yan (see article) in 1957 and the banquet was attended by several hundred guests which required two different restaurants to accommodate. (WKYP, 1957-9-7) In 1965, Kwok-wai started the Pak Kum Lung restaurant (白金龍酒家) in Sai Yee Street in Mongkok. (TKP, 1965-9-11) The site later became the home of the first Lei Garden restaurant founded by Chan Shu-Kit (see article on Union Metal Works for details about his family). 

Chan Kam-toi (陳錦臺, 1931-2019): Retailer and Philanthropist and his children 

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Chan Kam-toi (first from left) with R.C. Lee (center in black tux) and his fellow directors of Po Leung Kuk such as Cham Siu-leun (to his right) in the mid-1960s

Chan Kam-toi was a nephew of Chan Wai-ting and his father was a major landowner back in Sun Wui. He was a high school classmate of the popular TV show host Ha Chun-chau (夏春秋) and was a friend of many actors and actresses. In 1958, the 27 year old Chan Kam-toi bought the ground floor of the newly developed United Mansion (統一大) at 95-111 Shanghai Street and 37 Jordan Road in Yau Ma Tei developed by Kiu Fung covered earlier and opened the United One Price Department Store (統一百貨公司) which carried merchandise from the US and Europe at low fixed price. In August 1961, United renovated and expanded its space and the third anniversary ceremony was attended by famous Cantonese opera actors Lam Ka-sing (林家聲), Fung Wong-nui (鳳凰女) and Cheng Kwok-bo (鄭幗寶). All purchases above a dollar received free gifts and customers with children received free toys. (KSDN, 1961-8-17) 

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United One Price Department Store on Shanghai street (Chan Kam Toi retirement video) 

In 1965, Kam-toi was elected chairman of the retail trade group HK & Kowloon General Merchandise Merchants Association alongside Lee Jap-yan of Lee Ka Yuen (to be covered later) which also operated out of Shanghai Street. (KSDN, 1965-1-16) 

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Article about Chan Kam-toi and United’s participation in charity sale in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-1-27) 

According to Chan, he devoted his life to philanthropy after a fortune teller told him that he would only live to the age of 65 and could prolong his life by doing good deeds. In mid-1960s, Chan Kam-toi served as director of two of the leading charitable organizations in town – Po Leung Kuk and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and he combined his philanthropic effort with his public facing business. In 1964, United Department Store ran a three-day charity sale for Wah Kiu Yat Po scholarship fund and six stars from the Tao Yuen studio (to be covered) including Fong Sum, Ho Lan, Fung Mun, Lam Tin, Ko Ming and Lui Kim-kwong spent a day at United to help drum up sales. In June 1965, United participated in a charity lucky draw for Tung Wah Group of Hospitals by giving out raffle tickets to United customers. The top prize for the raffle is an apartment on Sing Wo Road in Happy Valley and second prize a BMW automobile. (WKYP, 1965-6-23)  

Over time, United was closed but Chan Kam-toi never stopped his philanthropic efforts. He was involved with the Five Districts Business Welfare Association (五邑工商總, FDBWA) for many decades and in 2002, he succeeded Sir Kenneth Fung as chairman of Cheung Chuk Shan College (張祝珊英文中學) sponsored by the association and in 2006, he succeeded Irene Cheung, the widow of the school’s benefactor Cheung Yok-luen (張玉) as supervisor and served in that position until two months before his death in November 2019. Over time, he had served as supervisor or trustee member for a dozen schools including the Iu Shan School (started by the Wong family of Wing Lee Wai, see article and was saved by Chan from closure) and the FDBWA Chow Chin Yau School. More than just giving money, he devoted significant of time to his roles as supervisors, attending every major events of these schools an hour early and signing hundreds of checks every month to ensure that the funds were properly used. 

A big fan of horseracing and dog racing, Chan Kam-toi was a racehorse owner for decades and the owner of at least three horses in HK later in life – “Conqueror”, “Super Conqueror” and “Super Bold Racer”. He often gave racing tips to his friends and often gave away his winnings to charities. 

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Left: Chan Kam-toi (right) shaking hands with Mrs. S.F. Chan (courtesy of Chan’s son Ho-ming); right: Florence Chan (second from right) with her clients Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui and Lydia Shum 

Kam-toi had two daughters and three sons, the highest profile being his second daughter Florence Chan Suk-fun (陳淑芬) who had served as the manager of major HK stars such as Jacky Cheung, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung (son of Tailor Cheung who was friend of her father, see Part 1 of Tailor series) , Roman Tam, Danny Chan, Lydia Shum, the Grasshoppers, Nadia Chan and Julian Cheung Chi-lam and had produced many concerts and musicals over the years. 

Sources (other than what’s cited above):

This article was first posted on 12th June 2020.

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  5. King Kong: Kong Tak-yan (江德仁), tycoon in the 1950s-80s and the original developer of Lan Kwai Fong
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