Rat Pack Era Recalled at Starry Opening of Macau’s Studio City

Hollywood A-listers Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese were on hand Tuesday in Macau for the opening of the gambling paradise’s newest casino resort, Studio City.

They were accompanied by billionaire media owner James Packer, songstress Mariah Carey and multi-hyphenate Brett Ratner.

The retro Hollywood-styled facility is the casino-resort that does the most to push Macau’s claim to be Asia’s entertainment capital.

That is important for the enclave, which in a matter of a few short years scaled up to overtake Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue, but for the past 18 months has been in retreat. The territory has been hit by a combination of China’s economic slowdown, an anti-corruption drive, and an over-dependence on gambling.

The transformation from gambling den to family-friendly entertainment nexus is a necessary one if the former Portuguese colony is to regain momentum and if gamblers and shoppers are to be persuaded to stay more than one night.

Studio City’s movie theme is no recent accident. Ratner and Packer are the principals of Ratpac Entertainment (a name which evokes both old Hollywood and gambling), while Packer and Lawrence Ho are major stakeholders in Melco Crown, which operates a string of casinos. Together Packer, Ratner and Ho are also aiming to finance and produce movies in Hollywood and in Asia.

Studio City boasts a 5,000 seater arena; a ‘Batman Dark Flight’ 4D ride; a figure-8 ferris wheel known as ‘The Golden Reel;’ a Warner Bros. Fun Zone; as well as plug-and-play studios usable for recording and live TV broadcast.

‘Live’ was a recurring theme of the opening night, with Carey performing a groovy night club set, crooning to her real-life boyfriend Packer and repeatedly name-checking Ratner, who has directed several of her music videos. She was followed by K-pop princesses Sistar, and by Aaron Kwok, Asia’s ‘king of dance.’

One of the evening’s highlights, however, was pre-recorded. “What better way to celebrate the opening of a movie themed casino than with a movie,” said Packer by way of introduction to “The Audition,” a film directed by Scorsese and reputed to be one of the most expensive shorts ever made.

A gently amusing drama that doubles up as a travelogue through three of Melco Crown’s casino palaces, the 15 minute picture features DiCaprio and De Niro as exaggerated versions of themselves, competing for a casino hustler role in a movie that is to be directed by “Casino” director, Scorsese. Brad Pitt also gets a look-in as the film’s fall guy.

Some investment analysts have recently attempted to call the bottom of Macau’s casino economy cycle. If they are right, the opening of Studio City may represent the beginning of a new upturn. Certainly, in a town which has long ago run out of superlatives in its pursuit of scale, high end gambling and retail excess, the newcomer appears to be aiming for a quality-first approach. While containing only two hotels, the site also boasts restaurants by chefs with a combined 18 Michelin stars.

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