Cinema chain UA has become the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic, announcing it will close down for good after 36 years in Hong Kong.
A message on UA Cinemas’ official website on Monday morning said it would cease business with immediate effect. Its mobile ticketing app was no longer working.
The company added that its operations had faced “unavoidable and devastating pressure” since the pandemic’s beginning, including the mandatory closure of its venues for more than 190 days last year.
UA Cinemas was opened in Hong Kong by late American businessman Ira Kaye in 1985, screening thousands of international and local blockbuster films in its more than three decades of operation.
Kaye was chairman of Lark International, which owned the chain, and founder of the American Chamber of Commerce in the city.
The chain had six remaining theatres across Hong Kong, including Times Square in Causeway Bay, Moko shopping centre in Mong Kok, Maritime Square in Tsing Yi, Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung, and Megabox and Amoy Plaza in Kowloon Bay.
UA Cinemas did not renew the lease on its K11 Musea location in Tsim Sha Tsui last month. Hong Kong-listed eSun Holdings Limited, which operates Multiplex Cinema Limited (MCL), bought the lease and operations for HK$56 million (US$7.2 million), according to an exchange filing from January 25.
The branch in the upscale mall has been renamed K11 Art House and officially reopened on Saturday with 12 screens and a total of 1,708 seats.
UA Cinemas said it had commenced winding up proceedings with the Hong Kong court.
There has been no follow-up on ticket refunds from the company so far.
Health authorities eased social-distancing restrictions on February 18, which allowed cinemas to reopen at half of their normal seating capacity.
Over the past year, the government has offered three rounds of support for cinemas under its anti-epidemic fund to support about 60 operators. The government provided HK$50,000 or HK$100,000 for each outlet, capped at HK$3 million for each cinema circuit.
The funds were but a drop in the ocean for the film industry, with dozens of cinema circuits already neck-deep in financial difficulties, said Crucindo Hung Cho-sing, chairman of the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association.
“It’s sad to see UA Cinemas shut down but it was an inevitable downfall as dozens of operators are also feeling the pinch,” Hung said.
He said cinema companies would face similar financial challenges in 2021, as shopping centre landlords chased operators for rents and renovation expenses even though venues barely made any money.
Ticketing revenues at local cinemas plunged 72 per cent to HK$537 million last year, from HK$1.92 billion in 2019, according to Hong Kong Box Office Limited.
Hours after the news of UA’s demise broke, several people checked out UA’s Causeway Bay outlet in Times Square, where notices informed film-goers about the closure and thanked them for their support over the years.
Chan, 36, who had watched a film there on Sunday night, said he was shocked.
“I guess I’ll miss this cinema, as I frequent it quite often.”
Another movie-goer, surnamed Yu, 35, said: “[The closure] is a bit disappointing. Just like with companies such as Cathay Dragon closing, it feels like each and every day, everything that makes Hong Kong feel like Hong Kong is slowly dying.”
Separately, a construction firm has sued cinema chain Broadway Circuit and production company Edko Theatre Operation for allegedly failing to pay more than HK$11 million for fitting works at Cityplaza mall in Quarry Bay, according to a writ filed last Friday. Edko operates Broadway Circuit.
The plaintiff, Idecor Asia Construction, said it completed renovation works at the Cityplaza branch in July 2019 and accused the two companies of not settling the bill of HK$11.83 million a month later.
The two defendants suggested settling the outstanding bill in eight instalments by August 4, 2020. However, the plaintiff alleged the defendants last paid HK$500,000 on November 2, 2020 and had not made any payment since and still owed HK$11.33 million.
A Broadway Circuit spokeswoman said the company would continue to run amid difficulties such as limited seating capacity and financial hardship. “We will strive to operate despite tough business conditions under the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.
Broadway Circuit runs 13 cinemas across the city, including in malls such as IFC in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty, Elements in Kowloon and Yoho Mall in Yuen Long. The chain has 78 screens with a combined seating capacity of more than 11,000.
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