HONG KONG — Hong Kong-based entertainment powerhouse Golden Harvest is strengthening its presence in Malaysia by upping its stake in dominant exhibs Golden Communications and Cathay Cinemas.

As part of a restructuring, the 80-screen GC loop and its 36-screen sister circuit Cathay Cinemas are merging. Golden Harvest, the exhibition, distribution and production concern headed by Raymond Chow, has increased its holding in the combined company from 26% to 40%; the balance is held by Malay conglom Perlis Plantations.

The move comes at a time when Malaysia’s burgeoning middle class is developing a taste for Hollywood blockbusters screened in comfy multiplexes. Golden Harvest is expected to bring its expertise in building and managing cinemas to GC’s operations.

Cathy conquered

Golden Harvest also will take over management of Cathay Cinemas, which operates 17 screens. Golden Harvest also owns a 25% piece of Tanjong Golden Village, which has 15 screens.

“We will try to put in more effective management,” Golden Harvest director Peter Tam told Daily Variety. “We see an opportunity to increase overall takings and attendance. With all the effort we are putting in, we think we can get more out.”

Tam said the Malaysian cinema market is underdeveloped and that the chains plan to open more theaters in the country over the next two years.

The GC and Cathay chains have been slow to develop multiplexes in the face of competition from Tanjong Golden Village, a co-venture between Malay firm Tanjong, Golden Harvest and Australia’s Village Roadshow; and from U.S. exhib United Artists Intl.

“We want to take a more aggressive role,” Tam said.

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