Grand Ocean Theatre, Tsim Sha Tsui
Once upon a time there was a big film production company called Golden Harvest, set up by a couple former Shaw Bros execs called Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho. Initially, with no studio space they made a couple of films on borrowed sets and overseas until some dude called Bruce Lee came along and made them a packet of money. With some more financing available they managed to take out a lease on the old Cathay studios in Diamond Hill and their place in Hong Kong cinema history was assured.
Golden Harvest were really one of the bigger studios around at the time, often outdoing their traditional rivals, Shaws, in terms of box office and star quality.
With Bruce gone and a new chapter of HK film opening, GH were consistently at the forefront of Asia’s Hollywood, launching the career of many a household name, a trend that continued for the next 3 decades.
Then it all went wrong. The lease on the old Cathay place was due for renewal and all of a sudden the Govt decided it didn’t want to renew as the site had been earmarked for sale and redevelopment (and eventually became Kingsford Terrace). GH looked around for a new site and put in a bid on a site on the newly reclaimed part of Junk Bay in Tseung Kwan O.
Alas, GH’s former rivals were the eventual winners in the battle of the film companies and it was Shaw’s who secured the new site at TKO. With no where to put up a new studio the GH execs called it a day and decided instead to concentrate on other parts of the film business – finance, distribution and the more visible industry of cinema management. I believe they did mull the idea of moving to Singapore and setting up a new studio there but this hasn’t happened yet.
The most recent news is that Raymond Chow – the name that became synonymous with Bruce Lee and the Golden Harvest brand, finally sold his remaining stake in GH to a Mainland Chinese businessman called Wu Kebo and once again there is talk of moving back into film production with a studio inside Mainland China. Let’s hope it sees a return to form for the studio responsible for so many great films.
One of the cinemas that is still under GH management is also the location for the premiere of its breakthrough picture. Remember that I said that Bruce Lee was really responsible for raising the profile of GH? Well, his first film for the company – “The Big Boss” – was made on a shoestring budget in Thailand (in Pak Chong to be precise) largely thanks to GH’s initial lack of permanent studio space. The film had its premiere at a cinema, then known as the “Ocean Theatre” on Canton Road next door to the Hongkong Hotel.
I have no idea if GH were already in the cinema business at the time (1971) – I suspect not considering their fledgling status, so its a nice twist of events that they end up managing the location of the film premiere that set them on their road to success.
Now called the “Grand Ocean Theatre” and drastically remodeled since it started business in February 1969. When it first opened, and indeed when it was used for the premiere of “The Big Boss”, the auditorium had a capacity of 1772 seats and was actually located on the first floor of the Hongkong Hotel next door.
1994 saw a massive redesign of the interior. What was a former balcony section was turned into the actual theatre and the old stalls and lobby were converted (albeit, not for long) into a restaurant. I have a sneaking suspicion this restaurant was Planet Hollywood, which fittingly enough had several items of Lee memorabilia including the black cat suit he wore in Enter the Dragon and the Black Beauty car used in the “Green Hornet” series. I remember getting very drunk there one night with my friend Ken on something (well several of then actually) called a “Terminator”. Anyway, my memory of that night is too blurry for me to have Total Recall (hehe ;-)), so unless someone can confirm it otherwise I’ll assume that I am right.
Anyway, moving on and after the closure of said restaurant, the space was again rebuilt as a department store – Lane Crawford – which can still be seen today on the ground floor of the (now Marco Polo) Hongkong hotel. The cinema lobby was moved to a corner on the first floor of the hotel building and the seating capacity was reduced to 576.
So for those of you who managed to visit Planet Hollywood when it was there – that was the same place where scores of local punters stood up and pumped the air as Bruce kicked some Thai-drug-dealer-buttski and a film career and studio business was launched.