The Kwan Family – Theatre Owners and Movie Producers

York Lo: The Kwan Family – Theatre Owners and Movie Producers

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the families of Kuan Ka-pak and his brother Kuan Ka-yue (the next generation used the English spelling of Kwan instead for their surname) played an important role in the HK movie industry as the owners/operators of at least a dozen movie theaters known collectively as the “Kam Kwok” chain and the proprietors of Tai Shing Film in the 1950s which produced over 150 movies and the Kin Shing/Tai Chee and Chi Leun/Kam Kwok studios started in the 1960s by the two different branches of the family after the death of Kuan Ka-yue in 1964 and were known for its youth films.

Kuan Ka-pak () and Kuan Ka-yue (關家餘) and the building of the “Kam Kwok” chain

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Left: Kuan Ka-yue (WKYP, 1970-6-10); Right: National Theatre in 1959 – the billboard is showing “The Dream Meeting between Emperor Wu of Han and Lady Wei” (漢武帝夢會衛夫人) produced by Kuan Ka-pak and Kwan Chi-kin starring Fong Yim-fun

Natives of Kow Kong in the Nam Hoi district in Guangdong, the Kuan brothers like many of their fellow Nam Hoi natives such as Tang Chi-ngong of Tang Tin Fook Bank (father of Sir Tang Shiu-kin) and Chu Shek-lun of Chung Nam Weaving (see article)made their fortunes in traditional Chinese banking and founded Kai Fung Bank (啟豐銀號) in HK in 1921. Both brothers were involved in the Kow Kong Commercial Association (KKCA) in HK (founded in 1911) and supported the founding of its Yu Lam School (儒林公學) in 1947 with Ka-pak serving as its founding supervisor. The school was renamed KKCA School (九江商會學校) in 1963 and operated until 2007. (KKCA website)

The Kwan family’s first foray into the movie business was the 1058 seats National Theatre (國民戲院) on Lockhart Road in Wanchai, which was built in 1939 and opened its door in February 1940. The theater showed both Cantonese and Mandarin films before the War and was closed during the Japanese occupation. After the War, it showed Cantonese and English films. In 1951, the family opened their second theater – the 1411 seats Kam Ling Theatre (金陵戲院) at 1-3 Woo Hop Street in Sai Ying Pun. Named after the alternate name of the former Chinese capital Nanking, the 1950 Disney animated film“Cinderella” was the first film shown by Kam Ling. In 1954, the Kwan family opened its third theater – the 2080 seatKam Wah Theatre (金華戲院) on Canton Road in Yaumatei and the office of the family’s movie production company Tai Shing (to be covered more extensively in the next section) also moved into the new building on the opening day. The Tai Shing film “Houseful of Treasures” (金玉滿華堂) starring Yam Kim-fai and Fong Yim-fun as tanka sisters was the first film shown at the theatre. (WKYP, 1954-12-23) The three theaters formed the original Kam Kwok chain and jointly advertised in newspapers as shown in the ad below from 1955.

The Kwan Family Theatre Owners Image 2 York Lo

Left : Kam Wah Theatre featuring “Pagoda of Golden Snake” made by Lux Film in 1961; Right: Movie ad for English movies showing at the Kam Kwok chain in 1955 (left to right): National, Kam Ling and Kam Wah (WKYP, 1955-10-3)

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Stars at the opening of the Kwan family’s Kam Kwok restaurant in Wanchai in 1961. Bottom right to left: Yu Lai-chun, Fung Wong-nui, Lam Dan, Leung Sing-bor; Top right to left: Margaret Leung, Yu So-chau, Yu Lai-chun, Ng Kwun-lai, Leung Sing-bor, Lam Dan, Fung Wong-nui, Tang Pik-wan. (WKYP, 1961-4-24)

To build new theaters, the Kwan family established Sun Shing Construction (新成建築), which operated out of the ground floor of 377 Jaffe Road in Wanchai and built the National Building and Kam Kwok Building in Wanchai in 1961. In 1961, the Kwan family opened Kam Kwok Restaurant (金國酒樓) at the intersection of Gloucester and Marsh roads in Wanchai which was opened by many stars from their Tai Shing studio as shown in the picture above.

Tai Shing Film (大成影片公司)

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Left: Movie poster for the 1955 Tai Shing picture “The Independent Daughter” starring Yam Kim-fai, Pak Lo-ming and Lee Hoi-chuen (father of Bruce Lee). Kuan Ka-pak and Kwan Chi-kin’s names are in the bottom right as producers (Moviecool); Right: Poster for the 1962 Tai Sing picture “A Couple in Cold War” starring Ng Kwan-lai, Woo Fung and Tang Kei-chan.

In 1951, the Kwan brothers formed Tai Shing Film Co Ltd (大成影片有限公司, although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1964) to produce movies to be shown at their movie theaters in addition to showing movies produced by other firms as Lee Siu-wan’s Lux Film.Its first movie was a Cantonese opera comedy “A Couple with Double Identities” (雙料夫妻) starring Sun Ma Sze-tsang and Ka-yue’s fifth son Kwan Chee-shing who was in his early 20s serving as its production manager.

Between 1951 and 1964, Tai Shing produced over 150 Cantonese movies, making it one of the leading studios at the time. The directors for Tai Shing include Chiang Wai-kwong (蔣偉光), Lo Yu-kei (盧雨岐) and Ng Wui (吳回) and in terms of actors, in addition to the sought-after Cantonese opera stars Yam Kim-fai, Pak Suet-sin and Fong Yim-fun, the studio also built the careers of younger stars such as Ng Kwun-lai (吳君麗, 1934-2018), Christine Pai (白露明) and Wu Fung (胡楓). In 1961 alone, Tai Shing produced 20 films of which 14 were shown in the same year with one in color and the rest were black and white. The two most popular films were the color film “Courtship of the Queen” (百鳥朝凰) and the black and white film “Miu Tribe” (蛇頭苗), both of which starring Yam Kim-fai and according to Kwan Chi-kin who gave an interview to the press in January 1962, the audiences were switching their taste from martial arts films to traditional Chinese costume musicals.   (KSEN, 1962-1-13)

The complete list of films produced by Tai Shing can be found at below link:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=281&display_set=eng

In 1964, Kuan Ka-pak passed away and afterwards, the two branches of the family went their separate ways and consequently Tai Shing ceased production. On the theater side,the Ka-pak branch tookNational while Ka-yue branch took over Kam Wah andKam Ling (managed by Tang Hing-luen) (managed by Yu Fai-chuen). On the movie production side, the Ka-pak branch established Chi Luen and Kam Kwok studios while the Ka-yue branch set up Kin Shing and Tai Chi studios.

Kin Shing Studio (堅成) and Tai Chee Film (大志影片)

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Left: Kwan Chee-shing; Right: opening credit of Kin Shing Studio – the two dragons represent Kwan Chee-kin and Kwan Chee-shing

Ka-yue’s eldest son Kwan Chee-kin (關志堅, also spelled Chi-kin) and fifth son Kwan Chee-shing (關志誠, 1931-1975) were involved with movie production at Tai Shing since the early 1950s and together, they created the vertically integratedKin Shing Motion Pictures Organisation Ltd (堅成影業機構, incorporated in 1968, dissolved in 1995) in the late 1960s which included movie production through Kin Shing Studio Ltd (堅成製片廠, incorporated in 1967, dissolved in 1998) and Tai Chee Film, distribution and movie theaters with Chee-kin handling the production and finance and Chee-shing handling distribution and theater operations.

Kin Shing produced Cantonese movies using many of the talents from Tai Shing such as actress Ng Kwun-lai and director Chiang Wai-kwong. In April 1967, Kin Shing took over the Grandview Movie Studio(大觀製片廠) in Diamond Hill and re-launched it as Kin ShingStudio with millions of dollars in new equipment including lighting equipment imported from Japan. (WKYP, 1967-4-29). Between 1964 and 1969, Kin Shing produced 24 films such as “Green is the Grass” (青青河邊草) in 1966 and “Romance Across the Miles” (明月千里寄相思) in 1967, both starring Wu Fung and Ng Kwun-laiand partly filmed in Malaya while Tai Chee produced 18 filmsbetween 1965 and 1968 including comedies starring Tang Pik-wan which were directed by Lo Yu-kei and also produced a series of modern action films directed by Chiang Wai-kwong in 1966-67 such as “Black Cat” (黑野貓) and “Black Killer” (黑殺星) starring Connie Chan (陳寶珠) and “Lady Killer”(女殺星) and “The Golden Cat” (金絲貓) starring Josephine Siao (蕭芳芳).

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The production team of Kin Shing at Singapore airport in 1966 for the filming of several films including “Green is the Grass” and “Romance Across the Miles”. (Nanyang Siang Pau, 1966-3-21)

Full list of movies made by Kin Shing Studio:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=891&display_set=eng

Full list of movies made by Tai Chi Studio:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=530&display_set=eng

On the theater front, in addition to Kam Wah and Kam Ling which they have inherited, Chi-kin and Chi-shing built the 1157 seatsKam Kwok Theatre (金國戲院) at 6 Heng Lam Street in Lo Fu Ngam (now Lok Fu) in 1966 and also added the 1300 seats Bonds Theatre (寶聲戲院) in Kwun Tong in 1964 which was owned by Seaker Chan but managed by them and the 1168 seats Liberty Theatre (快樂戲院) at 26A Jordan Road, which originally opened in 1949 and was managed by Kan Ying-hong. In July 1967, they announced the formation of the new Kam Kwok chain which included their own theatres Kam Wah, Kam Ling, Kam Kwok, Bonds and Liberty plus Odeon, Hoover, Rex and Golden Gate which were owned by other theatre owners. The first movie shown by the new chain was the Tai Chi film “Golden Swallow” (女賊金燕子) starring Connie Chan and Kent Tsang followed by the Kin Shing film “Long Road” (遙遠的路) starring Ng Kwun-lai and directed by Kwan Chi-kin himself (who had directed six films in his career). (WKYP, 1967-6-27) They also ventured outside of HK and bought the Jubilee Theatre on North Bridge Road in Singapore for S$1.47 million in an auction. (Nanyang Siang Pau 1966-7-21, Straits Times)

The Kin Shing Organization also distributed foreign films from Taiwan and Japan. In late 1967, Kin Shing distributed the Taiwanese film “Wang Bao Xun” in its 8 theaters, which grossed over HK$800,000 in 53 days, This was followed by the Japanese film “Cute Lovers” starring Akira Kobayashi in November which was also shown in the London Theatre and Cathay Theatre (see articles on the families of Cheung Kon-fong and Shiu Lock-hing) outside of the Kam Kwok chain. (WKYP, 1967-11-15)

As Mandarin films eclipsed Cantonese films in the late 1960s, Kin Shing recruited the famous Mandarin film producer Yuen Yeung-on and actors from the Cathay Organization in 1968 with grand plans to launch Mandarin films. (WKYP, 1968-5-24) However, Yuen only produced one Mandarin film at Kin Shing – “Unicorn Fortress” (麒麟寨) in 1968 starring Chen Si-si and Chao Lei and the brothers opted to stick with distributing Taiwanese films instead of going head to head with Shaw in Mandarin film production.

In early March 1970, Kuan Ka-yue died at the age of 71 and his funeral at the HK Funeral Home was attended by Sir C.Y. Kwan, Sir Tang Shiu-kin, Dr. C.T. Yung, Ho Sin-hang, Woo Hon-fai, Tso Tsun-on and Pun Sun-on (see article) in addition to many from the entertainment industry including the movie stars Chen Si-si, Cheung Chung, Wong Loy and Lee Heung-kam. (KSDN, 1970-3-8)

Out of Kuan Ka-yue’s 9 sons and 2 daughters (Chi-shun, Chi-mei), only Chee-kin and Chee-shing were in the movie business while his third son Kwan Chi-yan (關志殷) who graduated from HKU with a MBBS in 1964 practiced medicine, his sixth son Kwan Chi-yung (關志勇) started a sock factory and the second son Chi-leung, fourth son Kwan Chi-hung, seventh son Chi-chiu and eighth son Chi-kwong were all engineers in the US. (ninth son is Chi-wing who co-own a horse with his older brother Chi-yan)

Aside from Kin Shing and Tai Chee, Kwan Chee-kin teamed up with Malayan Chinese film distributor and producer Goh Eng-wah (吳榮華) of Eng Wah Organization to form Eng Kin Film (榮堅影片有限公司, incorporated in 1969), which produced six films between 1968 and 1971, with the last film “The Ghost’s Revenge” directed by Chor Yuen and Morinaga Kenjiro and starring Chen Si-si and Tina Ti being his last film.

In the early 1970s, the Kwan family began to close and re-develop their theatres. The first to go was Kam Wah Theatre at 831 Canton Road, which was closed in 1970 and re-developed into Kam Wah Building (金華大廈). Kam Kwokin Lok Fu was closed in 1971 after only 5 years of operations and re-developed into the Kam Kwok Building. Kam Ling Theatre was closed in 1973 and re-developed into Kam Ling Court in 1979.

In December 1972, Kwan Chee-shing joined the board of Deacon Chiu’s Far East Consortium and was also chairman of various family enterprises such as Ka Hing Enterprises Ltd (家慶企業有限公司, incorporated in 1964), National Entertainment Ltd (立信娛樂, incorporated in 1965, dissolved in 2006), Yu Chee Co Ltd (餘志有限公司, incorporated in 1967) and New Happy Entertainment Co Ltd (新快樂娛樂, incorporated in 1968, dissolved in 2003) in addition to Kin Shing. (WKYP, 1972-12-15)

In April 1975, Kwan Chee-shing died of cancer at the age of 44 at the HK Sanatorium and was buried in the Pokfulam Chinese Christian Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Virginia Wong (黃妙珍, 1937-2008) who was a leader in the HK bowling circle, two sons Kwan Siu-fai (關兆輝,who was married to Middy Yu 余少寶,Miss HK second runner-up in 1993) and Charles Kwan Siu-cheung (關兆昌, who became a famous racecar driver; Chi-shing’seldest son Siu-ming predeceased him) and four daughters. (WKYP, 1975-4-9) The pallbearers at his funeral included fellow theater owners Deacon Chiu and Fung Ping-chung (馮秉仲).

Chi Leun (志聯影業) and Kam Kwok (金國影業)

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Left: opening credit of Chi Leun; Right: poster for Chi Leun’s “Colourful Youth” in 1966

Three of Kuan Ka-pak’s sons – Kwan Chee-kong (關志剛), Kwan Chi-sun (關志信) and Kwan Chi-keung (關志強) started Chi Leun and Kam Kwok after the close of Tai Shing to make Cantonese movies. Kwan Chi-sun graduated from Lingnan Middle School in Canton in 1949 and then proceeded to MIT in Boston from which he graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1952.

The brothers formed Chi Leun Film Company Limited (志聯影業) in 1964 (although as a firm it was not incorporated until 1967) and its first film was “Love and Passion” (情與愛) directed by Wong Yiu (黃堯) and starring Wu Fung and Nam Hung, both actors from Tai Shing.

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Left: Wedding notice of Kwan Chi-sun to Ha Yuet-ming (夏月) in 1955. (KSDN, 1955-8-14);Right: Wedding picture of Kwan Chi-keung in 1970 (WKYP, 1970-1-23)

Chi Luen’s directors included Chan Wan (陳雲) and Wong Yiu (黃堯), the firm produced 38 feature films in its 5 years of operations, most of which youth films starring Connie Chan (陳寶珠), Josephine Siao (蕭芳芳), Lui Kei (呂奇), Wu Fung and Sit Ka-yin (薛家燕). The two most prominent films produced by Chi Leun were “Colourful Youth” (彩色青春,first released in August 1966, directed by Chan Wan and starring Connie Chan and Josephine Siao) and “The Sweetest Moment”(花月佳期,first released in April 1967, directed by Wong Yiu and starring Connie Chan and Lui Kei). Kam Kwok only produced 4 movies in 1967-68, starring Connie Chan, Lui Kei and Nam Hung.

List of movies produced by Chi Leun:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=890&display_set=eng

List of movies produced by Kam Kwok:

http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=941&display_set=eng

On the theater front, Kwan Chee-kong and his brothers inherited the National Theatre and built the 1180 seat Olympia Theatre (國都戲院) at 249 King’s Road in North Point in 1965 which showed Cantonese as well as Mandarin films. They also took over the 1572 seat ApolloTheatre (新舞台戲院) which opened in Castle Peak Road in 1940 and was managed by Yu Hon-fung and the 700 seat Loong Shing Theatre (龍城戲院) which opened in 1948 on Lion Rock Road in Kowloon City.

The National and Loong Shing were closed in 1973 and were re-developed into residential buildings. Apollo was closed in 1977 and re-developed into a residential building while Olympia at 5 Power Street operated until 1995 and was re-developed into a commercial building.

In recent years, Kwan Chi-sun has been active with his alma mater Lingnan and has also served as director of the KKCA which his father was involved with.

In 1978, the Kwan family re-developed their residence at 80-82 Morrison Hill Road into the 20-story office tower Valley Centre (柏餘中心, the Chinese name is after Kuan Ka pak and Kuan Ka yue). In 1997, the Kwan family sold their residence at 3 South Bay Close to Cornes Properties associated with the family of YK Pao for HK$300 million. In 2006, the family sold the National and Kam Kwok buildings in Wanchai to Henderson Land for over $1 billion which re-developed it into The Gloucester (尚匯) in 2013.

Sources (other than those cited above):

https://www.ln.edu.hk/f/upload/14227/Kwan_Chi-sun_Eng.pdf

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/17597

http://www.kkcahk.org.hk/%e9%a6%99%e6%b8%af%e5%bb%ba%e6%a0%a1-%e9%a6%99%e6%b8%af%e5%bb%ba%e6%a0%a1/

This article was first posted on 7th May 2021.

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2 Comments

  • PY

    Wow!
    Your website is amazing. I cannot believe someone out there is putting in this level of effort documenting HK. Please keep up the good work!

    • Many thanks PY for your compliment about the website.

      If you, or anyone else reading this, would like to contribute to this website please get in touch. “Many hands make light work!”

      Best wishes
      Hugh Farmer

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