The newly reopened Yau Ma Tei Theatre has a colourful past…
Built in 1930, it finally closed its doors on 31st July 1998.
The grade II art deco building was the oldest theatre in Hong Kong, and once the largest. It was popular with working class citizens, rickshaw drivers, coolies and low-income families throughout much of the 20th century…
It initially showed silent movies, whilst English-language Hollywood films and Shanghai movies were shown in the run-up to WWII.
[These shots of the closed theatre are from ‘My HK’, a G.O.D. photobook by Douglas Young]
During the Japanese occupation, it showed Japanese films and propaganda reels.
Then, from when the British returned till around 1960, mainstream local Cantonese films were popular – particularly those produced by Lan Kwong Film Company and Kong Ngee Company.
Mandarin-language films from the Shaw Brothers Studio and Golden Harvest were the mainstay throughout the 70s, whilst Cantonese flicks from Golden Princess Amusement dominated the 80s.
The end of the decade saw the theatre losing customers to other, newer venues. Coupled with the onset of home video entertainment, it began a permanent decline.
To survive, the theatre began ‘chain showing’ pornographic films – selling one ticket for several adult movies shown each day.
It remains the only pre-war theatre in HK and is today a permanent venue for Cantonese Opera.
It features a 300-seat auditorium with a stage and orchestra pit, a dressing room, sound and lighting control room, foyer and box office.
Upon reopening last year, the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong received a grant of more than HK$3.8 million to run 130 shows of its Cantonese Opera Young Talent Showcase, a platform for new talent.
The restoration cost HK$180million, though a budget miscalculation regarding sales of concessionary tickets caused concerns last October, according to the South China Morning Mouthpiece.
The construction of ‘8 The Waterloo’ – a new residential development – sparked renewal in the area which is known for its elderly, minority and working class populations.
Click to enlarge this diagram detailing the refurbishment and new theatre…
Nearby is another protected building – the red-brick Grade 1 ‘Engineer’s Office of the Former Pumping Station‘, built in 1895. The building also has a fascinating history, the details of which were only uncovered in 2000. It is set to become a supporting venue for Cantonese Opera production…
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- A Brief Visual History of Kowloon Walled City.
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- A Brief Visual History of Kai Tak Airport.
- A Brief Visual History of TST Clock Tower.
- …more or history entries.