40-year old theater chain welcomes latest addition

HONG KONG — Given the frigid temperatures typically felt in local moviehouses, perhaps the warmest touch in the city’s newest theater are the shawls they loan out.

Others might find the black-tie ushers or the smaller, more intimate theaters more to their liking.

The boutique-style Palace IFC theater is the latest addition to Hong Kong’s largest chain of movie theaters, the 46-screen Broadway Circuit run by producer Bill Kong’s Edko Films. The chain has been around more than 40 years.

Unlike typical theaters, which seat 100 or more, Palace IFC’s largest auditorium seats 189 and its smallest seats 84, a luxury setup in a territory where commercial space is precious and expensive.

With five screens, the theater accommodates 547 people comfortably: The seats are roomier and are made of red leather; there’s more legroom; floors are covered with both wood and carpet. A cafe and bookshop inside the theater will open in December.

The Palace IFC’s location is expected to be a boon to business, too. In the central business district, there are few moviehouses, but a diverse mix of people converge including office workers, bankers, tourists and people catching ferries home to one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.

The name of the theater is meant to evoke the old and new. “IFC” refers to the Intl. Finance Center, the name of the gleaming complex that houses Hong Kong’s newest, tallest skyscraper. The “Palace” in Palace IFC, harkens back to an earlier era for Hong Kong’s older film buffs.

“More than two decades ago, there was a theater called the Palace, and it was a symbol of prestige and quality,” says Gary Mak, associate director of Edko’s cinema house Broadway Cinematheque who is also responsible for Palace IFC. “It was a huge theater, and the experience was grand. It played a mix of films, including European arthouse, and was the only place that released ‘Gone With the Wind.’ We wanted to recapture that experience.”

The new theater opened its doors Nov. 6 with “The Matrix Revolutions,” “Good Bye Lenin!”, “Casablanca,” and a series of Francois Truffaut films. The mix of contemporary arthouse movies with commercial blockbusters and cinematic classics is expected to appeal to a broad range of people.

Art movie venues are limited in Hong Kong, hence the Palace IFC’s unique programming strategy. The Broadway Circuit dedicated its Broadway Cinematheque to art films when it opened several years ago, a strategy that failed to lure the necessary audiences. It quickly introduced commercial films and found that the mix of art and mainstream films was better for business. That theater, however, doesn’t play classics like Palace IFC.

“The audience base (for the new theater) is different than our other theaters,” Mak says. “Most of these people are mature, have status in society and have careers. We can’t position the theater as too educational or too arty.”

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