The Cheung family and the New York/Great World chain of cinemas

York Lo: The Cheung family and the New York/Great World chain of cinemas

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Left: article about William Cheung’s donating $1000 to scholarships with pictures of Cheung Kon-fong (top) and William Cheung (bottom). (WKYP, 1964-2-15); Right: New York Theatre in 1958

One of the major chains of movie theaters in HK during the 1950s and 1960s was the “New York/Great World” chain (紐大綫), which was controlled by the family of Cheung Kon-fong (張觀鳳) and included New York, Great World, London and Paris theatres which have all been re-developed.

Cheung Kon-fong: Building of a Cinema Empire (1940-1957)

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Cheung Kon-fong (first from the left) and Chan Keung (second from left) with representatives of United Artists signing the contract for New York and Great World to show UA films in 1955 (KSEN, 1955-7-31) 

A Hakka native of Weiyang in Guangdong province, Cheung Kon-fong’s first theater was the 1082 seat Good World Theatre (好世界戲院) at 199 Tong Mi Road in Kowloon which opened in February 1940.

In August 1949, Cheung opened the 6-story, 70 room Good World Hotel (好世界酒店) at 62-74 Wanchai Road in Wanchai. (WKYP, 1949-7-26) He also opened another Good World Hotel on Hau Wo Street in Kennedy Town.

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Left: Great World Theatre in 1965 (Gwulo); Right: screenshot of Good World Theatre from an old movie

In 1951, Cheung incorporatedGood World Co Ltd (好世界) as the holding company for his growing cinema empire as he built his second cinema – the 1451 seat Great World Theatre (大世界戲院) at 33Laichikok Road in Mongkok, which was opened in November 1952 by Sir M.K. Lo with Gregory Peck’s “The World in His Arms” as its first movie.

In January 1955, Cheung opened the New York Theatre (紐約戲院)on Percival Street in Wanchai with the British movie “Mad About Men”. At first, both Great World and New York primarily showed first run English movies but in November 1956, both theaters switched to showing first run Cantonese films, which was considered a significant boost to the local film industry at the time.

In January 1957, Cheung Kon-fong died and was survived by his widow Cheung Leung Yin-ping (張梁燕冰), five sons (by order of birth) – Cheung Kat-lee (張吉利), William Cheung, Wilson Cheung, Cheung Wai-ming (張威名), Cheung Wai-kin (張威健) and three daughters. (WKYP, 1957-1-10) Mourners at his funeral included U Tat-chee, Tsan Yung, Chan Shu-woon, Seaward Woo, Li Mow-kie (all have been covered in earlier articles) and many from the movie business (KSDN, 1957-1-9)

Cheung Kon-fong left an estate valued at over HK$9 million (a very substantial sum back in the 1950s) which was administered by his widow Leung Yin-ping and friend fellow Weiyang native and hotelier Hui Yeung-shing of Park Hotel.The estate tax rate at the time was 37%. (KSEN, 1957-12-14) He was succeeded at Good World by his widow and two sons – William and Wilson while the other children such asCheung Wai-ming (rank 11) pursued careers outside of the family business.

Continued Expansion under Cheung’s Wife and Sons (1957-1972)

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Left: The Cheung family with movie stars from Tao Yuen Motion Picture at the Chinese New Year banquet for the New York/Great World chain in 1963. Top right to left: Poon Yat-on (半日安), Mak Ping-wing (麥炳榮), Cheung Leung Yin-ping, Yam Kim-fai (任劍輝), William Cheung, Poon Kwok-lun (潘國麟); Bottom panel right to left: Law Shun-wah (羅舜華, see article on Lee Wui-tao), Ho Lam (賀蘭), Fong Sum(方心), Mui Yan (梅欣), Josephine Siao (蕭芳芳), Walter Tso (曹達華), Cheung Leung Yin-ping, Lo Yim-hing (羅艷卿), William Cheung, Poon Kwok-lun. (WKYP, 1963-2-24); Right: opening ad for the Paris Theatre in 1966.

The New York/Great World chain continued to expand under the leadership of Cheung Leung Yin-ping as chair and William Cheung (張威麟) and Wilson Cheung (張威臣) as managing directors in the late 1950s and 1960s.In January 1959, the manager of the Good World Theatre Leung Hung (age 38) was charged with involvement in organized crime as a member of the Wo On Lok triad and was ordered to pay bail of $500 and his behavior being observed by the police for two years. (KSDN, 1959-1-1)

Like other cinema owners such as the Kwan family (to be covered), the Cheung family also expanded into movie production and established Tai Hing Hong Films (大興行影業), which made a dozen Cantonese movies between 1956 and 1965. (see link to filmography at the end of the article).

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William Cheung (second from left) and movie stars at the charity premiere of the 1961 movie “Crime of Passion” (偷香血) in his New YorkTheater. Right to left: Tang Pik-wan (鄧碧雲), Chan Ho-kau (陳好逑), Wong Hok-sing (黃鶴聲), Auyeung Pak-chuen (歐陽百川), Lam Ka-sing (林家聲), William Cheung, Law Kim-long (羅劍郎). (WKYP, 1961-4-19)  

The family also continued the expansion of its theatre network in the 1960s and opened the 1404 seat London Theatre (倫敦戲院) at 219 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui in February 1962. The theater had a 50 feet wide screen and as shown in the 1955 article above, the project to build the London Theatre had started under Cheung Kon-fong in the mid-1950s.

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London Theatre in Tsim Sha Tsui

In July 1960,Cheung Leung Yin-ping bought a 25,800 sq ft plot of land near the Kai Tak Airport on Choi Hung Road in San Po Kong at a government land auction for $2.45 million, which was four times the starting bid. (KSDN, 1960-7-13) This was developed into the 3000 seat Paris Theatre (麗宮戲院), which opened in August 1966 with Sir Yuet-Keung Kan as guest of honor. The theater, which had 1999 seats on the lower level and 1001 seats on the upper level,was the largest movie theater with a single screen in Hong Kong when it first opened. The first movie it showed was the Cantonese color film “Colorful Youth” produced by the Kwan family’s Chi Luen Films and the movie’s stars Connie Chan, Josephine Siao and Wu Fung were present at the opening.

Under the brothers, the chain enhanced its employee benefits by providing free medical coverage and pension benefits.In 1964, Central Theatre (see article) also joined the New York/Great World chain although the ownership of the theatre remained separate. In 1965, William Cheung was elected vice chairman of the HK Theaters Association along with Lee Po-lam who was covered earlier in a separate article (WKYP, 1965-4-21)

Transition to Real Estate and Philanthropy

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Left: Article and picture of the wedding of Wilson Cheung in 1970 (WKYP, 1970-5-30); Right: picture of Vancouver office building acquired by the Cheung family in 1989. (WKYP)

Outside of business, William and Wilson Cheung were extremely active in community affairs in the 1960s and 1970s.William launched the Ming Tak Youth Centre (明德青年中心) to provide free classes and activities for youth and in 1970, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Person in HK. To promote Confucianism, he started Confucian Publishing Co (孔學出版社) in HK in 1979 and added a branch in Singapore in 1985 and in Canada in 1995 and served as supervisor of the Confucian School in HK from 1982 to 1996. In 1969, William Cheung was the charter president of the Junior Chamber International Peninsula, a position which his younger brother Wilson also held in 1973. In 1977, Wilson Cheung was elected chairman of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and was also a judge for the Miss Hong Kong pageant.

Wilson Cheungstudied economics at McGill University in Canada after graduation from Wah Yan College in Kowloon before returning to HK where he studied architecture at HKU and worked for the architectural design firm of Wu Chi-koen (who designed Hotel Fortuna and Pao Hsing Cotton Mill, see articles) while serving as managing director of New York, Great World and Paris theaters. (WKYP, 1970-5-30). A student of the famous painter Luis Chan, Wilson did 3 watercolor painting exhibitions in HK (1998, 2008, 2017) to raise funds for Ricci Hall at HKU where he lived while he was a student. Cheung Wai-ming went to DBS and received his B.S. from Arcadia University and M.D. from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 1968. After getting married in HK in 1969 (Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin were in attendance) and working for the Caritas Hospital for a year, he returned to Canada to further his studies in the field of pediatric medicine and eventually settled down in Toronto as a pediatrician. (WKYP, 1969-8-26; KSDN, 1970-6-19)

As property value soared and family members developed other interests, the Cheung family began to close its theaters in the early 1970s. In May 1972, the Good World Theatre which sat on a 8900 site on Tong Mi Road went on sale with the law firm Deacons receiving offers. Bidders were required to present checks of $200,000 as deposits. (TKP, 1972-5-22) The site was re-developed into the Good World Building (好世界洋樓) in 1975. In November 1972, the Great World theater was also closed and eventually developed into Cite 33.

The family firm Good World Co Ltd was dissolved in 1981. In May 1982, the New York Theatre closed as part of the MTR HK Line extension and the underground concourse of the Causeway Bay MTR station was built on the site while Causeway Bay Plaza was built above ground. From 1992 to 2006, Golden Harvest managed the New York Cinema which operated in Causeway Bay Plaza. The Cheung family continued to operate the London and Paris theatres in the 1980s. In May 1987, the Cheung family sold London Theatre to Jannerson Ltd for HK$140 million which two months later sold the building for $40 million more to Great Eagle Holdings. In 1988, London Theatre closed after 26 years of operations and the site which sat on prime shopping real estate was re-developed into the 15-story London Plaza (now known as Chuang’s London Plaza). (TKP, 1987-7-11) A smaller theater under the name of London Classic Cinema opened in the new building in 1990 and operated until 1998.

In 1989, the Cheung family made headlines when they acquired a 12-story office building with over 200,000 sq ft in office space at 111 Melville Street in Vancouver via Campustar Enterprises for CAD26 million. (WKYP, 1989-4-6) The family also owns 790 Madison Avenue in New York through Campustar USA Inc.

In 1992, the Paris Theatre in San Po Kong also closed after 26 years of operations and was re-developed into Yue Xiu Plaza, putting an end to the cinema empire of the Cheung family.

Sources (other than those quoted above):

List of movies produced by William Cheung and Tai Hing Hong:

香港戲院搜記.歲月鈎沉 By 黃夏柏

This article was first posted on 9th April 2021.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Hong Kong Film Studios – dates, locations, layout, founders
  2. A Brief History of Hong Kong Cinema to 1988 – Film Studios and Personalities
  3. Lo Lam (盧林) – Building Contractor, Theater Owner and Movie Producer
  4. Wader Film Studio (華達製片廠)
  5. YC Moy (梅友卓) – the Friendly Compatriot and the Yau Kiu Film Studio (友僑片場)
  6. Golden Harvest Film Studio – Diamond Hill
  7. Yung Hwa Motion Film Industries, newspaper article 1948
  8. Benjamin Brodsky – first to open a Hong Kong film production company and “King of Chinese cinema”
  9. Lianhua Film Company aka United Photoplay Service Film Studio, registered in Hong Kong 1930
  10. Lee Wui-tao (李會桃): Textbook and Tabloid Publisher and Movie Producer

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