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FilMart: Korea’s Lotte Opens Hong Kong Theater, Eyes China (EXCLUSIVE)

Korea’s second largest exhibitor, Lotte Cinema has opened its first theater in Hong Kong.

The new complex, named L Cinema, in Shau Kei Wan, comes with just two auditoria of 87 seats each.

It was originally set to open on Jan. 29, but due to a license issue the opening was pushed back a week to Feb. 5. It opened just in time for Chinese New Year with “The Good Dinosaur” in 2D and 3D, and Hong Kong-director director Wong Jing’s “From Vegas to Macau 3.”

Hong Kong is the third territory that Lotte has entered, following Vietnam and China, where it operates 23 and 11 theaters, respectively. Yet the company remains discrete about its Hong Kong launch.

The L Cinema is located in Shau Kei Wan at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island, a site that is not a typical cinema location, being neither a major retail destination, nor a position with significant through traffic. The cinema’s screening times are not listed on the popular HK Movies app and are similarly not advertised in all Hong Kong newspapers. Its Facebook page has 7,200 likes.

One explanation for the Hong Kong opening – and the low profile — may be that the company is seeking to change the status of its exhibition operations in mainland China.

Foreign companies are limited to a maximum 49% ownership stake in cinemas in China. However, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and China, allows Hong Kong cinema companies to own majority shareholdings, not exceeding 75%.

That is something that Hong Kong companies including Edko, UA/Lark and Golden Harvest have taken advantage of to build substantial circuits in China. It is also a rule that rival Korean conglomerate CJ-CGV has used. CJ-CGV operates a single screen Hong Kong cinema, the Lux, in the Hung Hom, Kowloon district.

Contacted by Variety, Lotte offered no comment about expanding taking greater ownership of its exhibition operations in China.

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