Shaw, MCL unspooling HK multiplex

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BEIJING -- Shaw Property Holdings and Multiplex Cinema Ltd. will open Hong Kong's biggest cinema by November, Shaw executives said Tuesday, describing the HK$100 million ($12.8 million) project as the start of a possible return to Shaw's prominence in the exhibition sector.

In its 1960s and '70s heyday, Shaw owned more than 100 cinemas across Southeast Asia, but today that figure is down to two Hong Kong theaters. Shaw has invested 70% of the capital in the new project, with MCL putting up the balance.

Located in the 900,000-square-foot Elements shopping complex and transportation hub on the western side of the Kowloon peninsula, the new Grand Cinema's 12 theaters will seat 1,700 and include one luxury theater.

"It's a big site, and it's the only one that can help Shaw achieve what it hopes to accomplish in Hong Kong, which is to create more than a cinema," Raymond Chan, director of property development at the private arm of Shaw Bros., said in an interview. He added that he hopes the theater will be ready for a soft opening in October.

The complex will feature a special sound system designed by Tom Hidley, the American sound designer for the Shaw Studios.

"The sound will be as close as we can get to true mixing studio quality in a concrete structure commercial complex," said Lloyd Chao, director of business development at Shaw Studios.

Chao said the project is an expression of the desire of Shaw chairwoman Mona Fong and the board of directors to look at rebuilding the company into a film production and exhibition player.

"We're testing the waters to see how this new sort of property performs," Chao said.

In terms of property development, Chan said that land was too precious in Hong Kong's crowded and competitive real estate market, making a follow-up project difficult.

"Landlords won't allow us to take up such space with cinemas in Hong Kong, but in China it may be different," Chan said, adding that Shaw is investigating sites in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing for future theater properties.

The Grand Theater in Hong Kong will be operated by MCL, which can draw films from its sister company, distributor Intercontinental. MCL's three other cinemas in Hong Kong are the MCL JP Cinema in Causeway Bay (also a Shaw property), the MCL Cinema Metro in Tseung Kwan O and the MCL Kornhill Cinema in Taikoo, Chan said.

Saul Symonds in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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