Golden Scene Founder Winnie Tsang Lai-fun Talks Opening A New Cinema In Kennedy Town
In the regeneration or, some might say, gentrification of Hong Kong Island’s Western District, since the MTR’s Island Line was extended in 2014, entertainment options outside upscale restaurants and coffee shops have been limited. This is set to change this month when Kennedy Town becomes the location for a new independent cinema—with a local twist.
Opening on February 11, the Thursday before the Chinese New Year weekend, Hong Kong film distribution company Golden Scene’s first cinema will also be the only cinema in Western District. Located at 2 Catchick Street, it has four houses with different screen sizes and a total of 283 seats.
For Winnie Tsang Lai-fun, the founder of Golden Scene, the cinema’s opening is a dream come true after years of struggling to secure prime showtimes for her company’s films at the larger chain theatres. She says that as well as bringing the cinema experience to an underserved part of the city, she also wants to reignite people’s interest in films from Hong Kong.
“Aside from blockbusters, I want to give a lot of space to Hong Kong-made films, niche, independent art films, Taiwanese and Chinese films, overseas [independent] productions from America, Europe and even Iran. Each of the four houses will show a wide range of films,” she says. “As long as they’re good, I’ll select them.”
Tsang’s interest in film was fostered by her father, who used to buy her cinema tickets when she was young. “I watched everything, both Chinese and English films, and always followed the film news in the papers he subscribed to,” she says.
Tsang started her career with the Hong Kong film production, distribution and exhibition company Golden Harvest (known as Orange Sky Golden Harvest since 2009), where she gained substantial knowledge of cinema through working in multiple departments and attending film festivals in Chinatowns in the US, where Golden Harvest has cinemas.
Golden Harvest mainly produces local films. For a time, Tsang was in charge of buying western films, yet watched a lot of Hong Kong productions and grew fond of Hong Kong filmmaking. In 1998, she struck out on her own and set up Golden Scene. “When you work for a big company, it’s inevitable that sometimes you have to select gimmicky films just to make money. Now that I have my own company and cinema, I can instead present a more focused selection of films that I find meaningful.” It also allows Tsang to pick—or reject— films based purely on personal preference. She says with a laugh: “I’ve become religious. Now I don’t show ghost movies.”
I hope the local audience can, like me, have a space
to dream a little while immersing themselves in movies
To Tsang, good films should spotlight social issues and have a clear message, a distinctive style and an intriguing plot that captures the audience’s attention. The Way We Dance, Hong Kong’s first dance movie, which was released in 2013 and directed by Adam Wong Sau-ping, is one of Tsang’s favourite films produced by Golden Scene. Partly based on the true story of hip-hop dancer Tommy “Guns” Ly, who continued dancing after having one leg amputated due to a tumour, the film follows a group of university dancers, traceurs—those who participate in parkour—and t’ai chi practitioners as they pursue their dreams. The film was a box-office success, making over HK$13 million and winning a merit at the 20th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards.
“The film was down to earth and had a lot of positive energy. Most of all, I’m pleased to witness the growing career success of the dancing cast, including Cherry Ngan and Babyjohn Choi, who were new actors back then,” Tsang says.
Tsang will kick off her cinema’s opening with The Way We Keep Dancing, which reunites Ngan, Choi and Lok Man Yeung on screen. “It is a positive film that will give hope to Hong Kong audiences,” Tsang says. She says Hong Kong has a solid cinema culture that will survive the pandemic and the rise of online streaming, and that going to the movies will remain one of the city’s favourite pastimes.
Tsang adds: “With the new cinema, I hope to offer more choices to the local audience and that they can, like me, have a space to dream a little while immersing themselves in movies.”
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