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A Farewell to UA Whompoa

Guess what I’m listening to while I write this entry?

East Screen/West Screen Episode 9

What can I say? I’m narcissistic like that.

On October 8th, 2009, the UA Whompoa cinema closed down for good for the UA cinema chain to make room for their new multiplex in nearby Tsim Sha Tsui.


While a theater closing anywhere in Hong Kong is worth lamenting, I have a bit of a connection to this cinema. It provided me with one of my most memorable early cinematic experience.

Once upon a time - more like Christmas time 1992 - the UA Whompoa still had 6 screens: 4 in the main building, and 2 in the big boat across the street. Someone asked me why there’s a boat in the middle of a Hung Hom residential neighborhood. I think it has something to do with its past as a pier.

The family - 4 of us - decided to go to Whompoa that wintery day. Having been built recently at the time, Whompoa was a fairly nice, maybe even fancy, place to live. With several theaters in the area, I still can’t remember why we were there, but I remember that while my brother wanted to watch Gordon Chan’s King of Beggars, starring Stephen Chow, I wanted to watch…..Home Alone 2.

Give me a break, I was 8 years old, damn it.

And so, I became the catalyst for this little family separation. My father and my brother went to King of Beggars, while my mother and I went to Home Alone 2, all the way across the street at the boat. All I remember, aside from the actual movie, was my seat - the left corner, three rows from the screen. Not exactly the best seats, no.

By the next July, I was in America. Don’t remember going back to the UA Whompoa again. Ever. UA Queensway (Now AMC Pacific Place) became the theater of choice for my trips back. I remember seeing Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt, Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, and even Stephen Chow’s Million Dollar Man at the Queensway, but I don’t remember ever going to the Whompoa since that Home Alone screening. Maybe it was too out of the way, or maybe the movies I saw there sucked more than I care to remember.

And almost 17 years later, the UA Whompoa closed its doors. Before this childhood memory of mine closed for good, I decided to head there to watch one last film, and two of my classmates were game enough to accompany me on this trip down memory lane. Too bad there was nothing memorable playing that I hadn’t seen. So instead, as mentioned in episode 9 of East Screen/West Screen, we watched Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates.

Perhaps it was due to the fact that it’s the second-to-last night of operation, or the fact that tickets were at a cheap HK$35 a piece (plus a 10% off discount with my credit card), but there was a sizable crowd at the theater. Just past the entrance, there’s a table with all sorts of memorabilia and a spinning wheel. A piece of paper says “One spin for each ticket,” so I approached the employees at the table, hoping for my chance at a piece of usepriceless movie memorabilia.

“So one ticket a spin?” I asked.

“Forget it, this is all we have left. Just take whatever you want!” Said one employee.

The woman hands me a Nim’s Island folder, which I took. I notice a few more things on the table, which the employees seemed more than willing to give to me. On the other end of the table, I see some plastic black things, and the employees passed them along my way.

“They’re card holders,” said the women, “Here, take two!”

So now in my home, I have two things with Evian logos, a Coca Cola refrigerator magnet, a Nim’s Island folder, two Coca-Cola card holders, and perhaps some other thing I can’t recall.

Then I remember I was there for the movie.

So into House B we go. Let’s face it, the Whompoa might’ve been state-of-the-art back then, but it has dated quite quickly since those days. Despite its 500-seat capacity, the screen was relatively small (though it expanded horizontally for widescreen films - a rare sight these days), and the legroom is even smaller. The Whompoa is also one of the few HK theaters that still has DTS for its audio system, and Surrogates packed a mild wallop.

Either way, it was obvious the Whompoa needed a redo years ago.

Walking out of the theater and on the way to the bus stop, the real film buffs have shown up, taking pictures of the UA Whompoa entrance from various angles. We really don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone.

That’s why it’s perhaps not a very good thing that Golden Harvest has decided to take over the Whompoa. They’re giving it a large renovation, and they will reportedly reopen in time for Christmas. Which means maybe I can take my own family there for a Christmas movie there someday. And perhaps we can even decide to watch the same movie.

With the new UA cinema in Tsim Sha Tsui and the impending Golden Harvest Whompoa, there are rumors flying around that Golden Harvest will back out of TST and close their two theaters in the neighborhood - The Golden Gateway (where a major scene of Infernal Affairs was shot) and The Grand Ocean (Probably the only single-screen movie palace left in Hong Kong).

Looks like there’ll be a few more of these entries to do, then.

3 Responses to “A Farewell to UA Whompoa”

  1. YTSL Says:

    I hope The Grand Ocean doesn’t close any time soon! It’s my first choice Hong Kong cinema for big action blockbusters — and have good memories of watching movies there.

  2. Old Man at home Says:

    The “boat” there symbolizes the area was a shipyard, building
    and servicing vessels. The Lee Family built that to attract
    home buyers to the newly developed area. Any theater is good
    for watching movie with your beloved ones……..

  3. Foxlore Says:

    I was really upset when the little theater in Fanling that I used to watch films on closed down some years back. The staff came to recognize me over time and it was a more interpersonal experience than you would get at the chain cinemas. Nice feeling of nostalgia in your entry.

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