Obituary

Cinema magnate 'a father figure'

Mr Goh (left) shaking hands with the late President Yusof Ishak. Mr Goh Eng Wah in a 2007 file picture (left) and meeting Hong Kong actress Ivy Ling Po (above) at the airport.
Mr Goh Eng Wah in a 2007 file picture (above) and meeting Hong Kong actress Ivy Ling Po at the airport.PHOTO: ST FILE
Mr Goh (left) shaking hands with the late President Yusof Ishak. Mr Goh Eng Wah in a 2007 file picture (left) and meeting Hong Kong actress Ivy Ling Po (above) at the airport.
Mr Goh (left) shaking hands with the late President Yusof Ishak. PHOTO: ENG WAH GLOBAL

Mr Goh Eng Wah, who produced films and screened them in his cinema chain, was caring towards his staff

Mr Goh Eng Wah was a towering pioneer in the local cinema industry who produced films and screened them in the cinema chain that bore his name, which was rebranded WE Cinemas in 2011.

The founder of Eng Wah Global died last Saturday from "congestive cardiac failure", according to a company spokesman. He was 92 years old.

He leaves behind his wife, two sons, two daughters and five grandsons. The family declined to comment.

Eng Wah Group's business spans entertainment, properties, hospitality and lifestyle in Singapore and Malaysia. Its brands include WE Cinemas, Hotel Fort Canning and Jubilee Square.

Mr Goh was executive director of Eng Wah Global and its group of companies, an empire he had built up over 70 years. Earlier this year, he was recognised for his contributions with a Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry SG50 Outstanding Chinese Business Pioneers Award.


Mr Goh Eng Wah in a 2007 file picture and meeting Hong Kong actress Ivy Ling Po (above) at the airport. PHOTO: ENG WAH GLOBAL

The cinema magnate was born in 1923 in Muar, Johor. His father, a rubber trader, died when he was 11. He was uprooted to Singapore at 18, when he fled the Japanese army which was rumoured to be rounding up students.

When a friend asked him to join the film business after the war, he agreed despite not knowing anything about movies.

They opened their first theatre, Victory, in Happy World amusement park in 1945 where people would pay 50 cents to watch two screenings of mostly Western flicks. Two years later, he bought out his friend and set up Eng Wah Company.

He went on to buy China-made films from Hong Kong and eventually set up a Hong Kong office in 1961.

Mr Goh was also a producer of Hokkien and Cantonese movies such as The Magic Whip (1968). He brought in movie stars such as Patrick Tse and Fung Bo Bo and also invited Cantonese opera troupes to Singapore.

His first Hokkien film was The Wandering Songstress (1958), which marked the screen debut of local actress Zhuang Xuefang.

Zhuang, now 83, tells Life: "He was a very good boss, concerned about the people who worked for him and very sincere in his dealings with us. He was one of the titans in the film industry."

Mr Goh treated the staff very well and that's why I've stayed in the company and worked for him for more than 57 years.''

MR CHEONG KEE TOH, 84, who worked as a theatre manager and is now a despatch messenger at Eng Wah Global

She adds that he would visit the film set in Hong Kong as well to keep an eye on productions.

Some of Mr Goh's staff members have been with him for decades and remember him with fondness.

Mr Cheong Kee Toh, 84, who worked as a theatre manager and is now a despatch messenger at Eng Wah Global, says: "Mr Goh treated the staff very well and that's why I've stayed in the company and worked for him for more than 57 years."

Accounts executive Catherine Sim, 44, says: "Mr Goh was a benevolent, compassionate and thrifty man. He never displayed the airs of a boss. In fact, he was more like a fatherly figure and caring towards his staff."

The patriarch of Eng Wah Global had a strong work ethic. Even when he was in his 80s, he would go into the office every day to sign cheques and monitor the stock market.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Cinema magnate 'a father figure''. Print Edition | Subscribe