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The Oriental Theatre was the first theatre to be built on the reclaimed land of the Wanchai District of Hong Kong Island,Hong Kong. The proprietor of the theatre was a Hong Kong and Macau millionaire Kou Ho Neng. The opening date of the theatre was 31st July 1932.
A news article published by the evening newspaper on 1st August,1932 reported that:
“Capacity houses attended the opening of the new Oriental Theatre, Fleming Road, Wanchai yesterday. An excellent programme was provided, the feature being Paramount’s great success "One Hour With You” starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Sound reproduction by the Western Electric Equipment was fautless. Many fans have been installed, and together with the system of ventilitation, keep the cinema remarkably cool".
Before the outbreak of World War II, the Oriental Theatre was a second-run theatre showing Western movies. In 1935, variety shows were added to the programme. During the war, due to the lack of proper movies, Cantonese operas were performed in the theatre as well as movies censored by the Japanese Army.
After the war, the theatre was re-opened on 10th October 1945. An advertisement published by the China Mail is as follows:
“Our Building, equipment and service just the same as before! Nothing Changed—Three Shows Daily—2.30, 5.30 & 7.30—For today and tomorrow, an MGM million dollar production!—It’s an all star…musical—Gay shows of laughter—Song and Riotous Romance—Eleanor Powell in "Born to Dance” with James Stewart and Virginia Bruce—Western Electric Sound Equipment—Admission: 30 cents, 50 cents and 1.00"
On 17th July 1948, an air-conditioning system was inaugurated, and the theatre was the third cinema in Hong Kong in the late-1940’s to have air-conditioning.
After the introduction of Cinemascope in 1953, the theatre installed the highest standard of the system of Cinemascope on 18th February 1954 and “The Robe” was shown to full houses for several days. As the proscenium arch of the theatre was roughly square-shaped, the masking of the screen had to be adjusted horizontally to meet the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 of Cinemascope.
The theatre was upgraded to be a first-run cinema on 21st December 1967.
On 1st April 1981 it closed its doors forever, and the Wanchai District lost its famous landmark. Unfortunately, the last film to be shown was a soft-core pornographic film.
The Oriental Theatre was my favourite cinema, since I lived in the Wanchai District during my childhood. Among the famous films I saw in this theatre included: “Patton”, “Hello Dolly”, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Longest Day”, “The Song of Norway”, “Three Coins in the Fountain”.
The theatre was an elegant and well decorated cinema and the sightline was perfect. The service was of the highest standard.
After its closure in 1981, I felt sorrow.
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