During the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, HKURBEX explored an abandoned cinema on one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. Their photos capture the lingering magic of the movies from almost a century ago.
With cinemas across the world shuttered due to the pandemic, the group sought out one they could still visit.
What they found was an old neighbourhood cinema, derelict but not without its charms.
As the only pre-war cinema left in Hong Kong, it is listed as a Grade III historical building, meaning there is still a chance it could be demolished despite its heritage value.
The two-storey structure was built in the early 1930’s and was popular with the island’s inhabitants. During its heyday, screenings were often full.
With only a rudimentary ticketing system and all 600 seats occupied, movie-goers often had to sit along the corridors and staircases. Tickets cost HK$10 per show and there was usually one screening during the day and two at night. It only took about a staff of eight to run the place.
It is rumoured that its owner imported the screen and installed it himself by reading the manual. During this cinema’s prime, black and white films were shown and interpreters were often present.
The interpreter’s booth can still be seen on the right side of the screen near the remaining seats in the photos. Outside the movie theatre, vendors would hawk snacks such as sugar cane, grilled squid and sour plums. It was very much part of the community.
The theatre was closed during the Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945. After reopening, it remained in operation until it was shut down in the early 1990’s. In 1992, it was sold and the building has been left to decay ever since.
When the group visited, the original green plastic seats were scattered everywhere, with only a few remaining by the screen. Half of the roof had collapsed and the original beams and glazed tiles were nowhere to be seen.
As a result, greenery has taken over and sunlight pours in where darkness used to be. It was not the only theatre on the island, but it is the only one of which anything remains.
The theatre is constructed of concrete, bricks and rocks with walls and columns that support its pitch roof of black tiles. On the exterior above the reception lobby facing the street is a decorative façade.
This has a geometric angled design topped off by subtle water patterns on either side. The name of the theatre is moulded into the stone and it matches the slanted shape of the roof beyond.
Below this is the reception lobby, featuring red ceramic tiles and a modest ticket booth and movie poster display panels. A run-down screening room holding oxidizing projectors is located on the floor above.
Despite all these original remaining features, the cinema has fallen into an irreparable state of dilapidation. Over the last few years the island has been touted as a tourist destination, and there were plans to capitalise on this and revitalise the theatre.
However, this has clearly never come to fruition. Soon the historical value of the site will be lost forever.
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