Queen to close doors

Theater popularized Shaw, Golden films

Hong Kong’s determination to keep its place as one of the most technologically and economically sophisticated places on the planet can be a culturally brutal affair.

Last week it emerged that the last icon of Hong Kong Island’s old entertainment district, the Queen’s Theatre, is to be torn down to make way for more shops and offices.

Chances of a backlash are small, but not out of the question. For booming Hong Kong is currently discovering a sense of the historical.

The Queen’s certainly qualifies in that department. It gave its name to the street it is in – Theater Lane – and it stands opposite the site of the old King’s Theatre, now a shopping mall called the Entertainment Building.

The Queen’s was also instrumental in popularizing Hong Kong movies in the 1960s and 1970s, notably those of the Shaw Bros and Golden Harvest.

There was no perceptible reaction last year when the last specialty art-house theater on Hong Kong Island, the Cine-Art in Wanchai, was forced to close due to soaring rental demands. But then the Cine-Art was never exactly loved; it managed to be both mosquito infested and freezing cold. And most taxi drivers did not know of its existence – a charge that does not apply to the Queen’s.

Hong Kong’s new sense of heritage was sparked by the destruction of the Star Ferry Pier in Central to make way for a new road. That met with genuine outrage, vigils and other examples of public disobedience. Subsequent demolition of the Queen’s Pier (no connection to the theater) continues to spark equally angry reactions.

While the Queen’s managers envisage playing out with a swansong of local movies, public reaction could tell us once and for all which wealthy Hong Kongers judge shopping or cinema to be better a definition of ‘entertainment.’

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