Golden at 25 & counting

As the nation's biggest cinema exhibitor recently marked a new milestone by celebrating 25 years of existence, many are intrigued as to how the cinema industry bloomed into a colossal industry in the first place.

While the first Malaysian movie experience incorporating sound that propelled our local production is famously known to be "Laila Majnun" released in 1933, the exact commercialisation of the cinema industry however is discerningly linked back to two Shanghai born brothers; Runme Shaw and Run Run Shaw, the historic pioneers of Malaysia and Singapore's film industry, who set foot in 1923 to explore the small yet newly existing regional market. As the Shaw brother's preliminary plan was to distribute their very own film productions to our shores, it proved to be a hurdle when they found the local market dominated by independent theatre houses whom refused to play their films. So to take matters into their own hands, the brothers constructed and operated their very first cinema in Tanjong Pagar (which at that time was part of Malaya) that then led the successful venture to span to more locations nationwide.

Run Run Shaw handled their cinemas in Singapore, while Runme Shaw ventured North to set up Ipoh as his base. Travelling to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and other smaller towns he discovered that there were many strategic locations that did not have cinemas, so as any entrepreneurs would, they built them. Eventually, with the mounting number of chains in Malaya, Runme eventually took over the Northern half of Malaya while Run Run manned the southern half, including Singapore.

During the 1920's Great Depression, the Shaw's saw a drop to their business significantly, but not as much the other smaller existing cinema houses that had to cease and sell their businesses to the brothers. However during the Japanese Occupation in 1942, the Shaw brothers' success was put to a hiatus. With several of their cinemas seized and forced to screen propaganda films by the Japanese, the duo converted their assets to jewels and gold, and buried them. After the war they dug it up to rebuild the theatres and re-started their business where amidst the ravages of other cinemas, theirs saw huge profits. By the late 30's, the brothers were already key players of the local cinema industry and established a special managing subsidiary known as the Malayan Theatres Limited. However about the same time, Cathay Organisation arrived when Dato Loke Wan Tho and his mother Loke Sheng Kim from Singapore established the Associated Theatres Ltd. They too started acquiring many cinemas in Malaysia and opened their very first cinema, a 1,200 seater known as The Pavillion in Kuala Lumpur. It was soon accompanied by another popular Cathay Organisation's cinema, The Cathay Kuala Lumpur.

For the next two decades, almost every town in Malaysia, if not already housing an independent stand-alone cinema, had at least a Cathay or a Shaw cinema. By 1965, Shaw owned theatres in Malaysia alone numbered to 70 and Cathay had 75 cinemas spread across Singapore and Malaysia. However by the early 80's due to rampant video piracy and recession, both the exhibitors began redeveloping several cinema sites for alternative utilisation. Many cinema halls were sold or leased to churches.

On the other hand, sensing a rife opportunity in the cinema industry Malaysia's PPB Group and Golden Harvest Int. Ltd of Hong Kong jointly established Golden Communications Circuit Sdn. Bhd. to take over and buy dilapidating cinemas which were first leased by the Shaw Brothers in 1987. As a double bonus, when news also struck that Cathay was letting loose some of its Malaysian cinema businesses, Golden Communications Circuit seized the opportunity to merge with the Cathay Organisation to form a new alliance.

The merger made way for the establishment of Golden Screen Cinemas (GSC) in 1998 which at that time operated 30 cinemas making it the biggest exhibitor nationwide.

 

When more GSC locations sprouted up over the years, the need for quick access to movie showtimes over the years saw a demand from moviegoers for other alternative mediums rather than acquiring showtimes only through the daily newspaper listing. Thus in 1998, GSC became the first to launch its own official website with help from Cinema Online so daily showtimes, as well as for the next few days, were readily available on their site within a few clicks of the mouse.

Like a domino effect, GSC then saw to the rapid expansion of their cinemas including the notable opening of GSC Mid Valley at Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur in 1999, which is still the largest multiplex in South East Asia today boasting a whopping 18 screens in total.

The following years too seemed to be picking up pace as it saw various firsts for GSC in the form of branching out to various subsidiaries such as Glitters Cafe (2001); a movie merchandising outlet as well as a cafe at selected cineplexes, GSC Distribution; now known as GSC Movies which was the first to collaborate with a local station, TV3, to supply Chinese films in 2002, and also Cinead; which deals with ambient advertising in all GSC Cinemas as well as other independent cinema operators.

In 2007, GSC's 20th year into the field, the company aimed to set itself apart and to do they introduced GSC Signature. The chain's first boutique cinema void of the usual halls that serves as a luxury movie experience housing two Gold Class halls as well as 5 Premiere Halls at The Gardens.

To contrast, just early this year GSC opened a new cinema experience in the form of GSC Lite and Mentakab Star Mall, Pahang. The facilities of their new cinema brand is designed to be modest, yet serves as a simpler version of the usual GSC Cinemas to cater to smaller towns with ticket prices slashed from RM2 to RM4 off the normal Klang Valley movie ticket pricing.

With a portfolio that just as colourful as the industry, GSC made way for celebrations when they recently held an anniversary dinner inviting various guests, partners and staff to ring in their Silver Jubilee. The festivities lauded the establishment and accomplishment of the team that served 25 years in the industry including General Manager Irving Chee (previously from Shaw) and Senior Manager of GSC Movies Tung Yow Kong who were among the Long Service Award recipients of the occasion.

Even superstar Jackie Chan made time to send over a video greeting to congratulate GSC that night.

With various firsts and ongoing expansions, GSC's 25 year tenure with 197 screens nationwide seems to be still picking up speed on the tracks of the success train that has no qualms to slow down at any hurdles or stops it may face.

Their destination however, is towards five new cinemas confirmed this year; 9-screen GSC Lite Bintang Megamall, Miri, Sarawak and GSC Paradigm Mall, Kelana Jaya, a 10-screen GSC City One Mall, Kuching, Sarawak as well as GSC Palm Mall, Seremban, Negeri Sembilan and the 8-screen Amanjaya Mall, Sungai Petani, Kedah.

Follow us in our six part special GSC 25th Anniversary feature over the following months as Cinema Online takes you behind the scenes of what makes a successful cinema leader.

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