The Cathay Cineplex in Handy Road, one of Singapore's oldest cinemas, to close after June 26

The Cathay Cineplex has been in operation since 1939 and many Singaporeans have fond memories of watching movies there. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE -  The Cathay Cineplex in Handy Road, one of Singapore’s oldest cinemas, will cease operations from June 27 and taking over the space is a pop-up by independent cinema operator The Projector.

In a statement, media company mm2 Asia, which runs the Cathay Cineplexes chain in Singapore, said the closure of the iconic cinema, close to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, is “part of the cost rationalisation process for its cinema operations”.

Mr Chang Long Jong, group chief executive for mm2 Asia, said: "The cinema's closure was a business decision. Over the years, retail traffic demographics have changed. We have had to evaluate the commercial viability of operating two cinemas in the Orchard shopping belt within 1.5km of each other and within 300m of another multiplex."

The company also operates the nine-screen Cathay Cineplex Cineleisure outlet at the Cathay Cineleisure building on Grange Road.

He added that it will be "business as usual" at the chain's other outlets.

The Handy Road location has been in operation since 1939 and many Singaporeans have fond memories of watching movies there. It was Singapore's first air-conditioned cinema and is housed in a landmark building that is today a protected national monument.

The cinema's premises at Handy Road is owned by Cathay Organisation and The Straits Times has contacted it for comment. It is understood that the shops and restaurants elsewhere in the building are not affected by the cinema closure and will operate normally.

Cathay Cinema in the 1960s and the building in 2017. PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, ST FILE

From August 23, the space previously used by The Cathay Cineplex will become the latest pop-up outlet operated by The Projector.

A statement from building owner Cathay Organisation said the space, to be named Projector X: Picturehouse, will be used for films, live performances, complete with a cocktail and craft beer bar.

The Projector also operates Projector X: Riverside, a pop-up cinema at Riverside Point on Merchant Road. Its main permanent premises are at Golden Mile Tower in Beach Road. 

Ms Karen Tan, founder of The Projector, said in the statement that her team is “super stoked” to be at The Cathay, which she calls “an iconic grand dame with a storied past”.

The Projector pop-up is understood to be temporary, but there was no comment from The Projector or Cathay Organisation on the duration of the pop-up or the long-term plans for the space. 

A spokesman for The Cathay told The Straits Times: “We are studying plans for The Cathay to undergo redevelopment works. Given the prime location of the mall and evolving shopper demographics, we believe that a possible revamp will unlock the greatest potential for the mall.”

The Cathay Cineplex in 1953. PHOTO: ST FILE

The closure of the seven-screen Cathay cinema comes amid tough times for the exhibition business. The Covid-19 epidemic caused delays in the release of blockbusters while social-distancing rules reduced seating capacity to roughly 50 per cent.

Earlier this year, smaller chain Filmgarde Cineplexes announced the closures of two of its branches, at Bugis+ and Century Square.

With the easing of social distancing rules on April 26 this year, business has rebounded "almost to pre-Covid levels", according to the mm2 Asia statement.

Cinemagoers at The Cathay Cineplex on June 17, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Chang said that "the cinema exhibition business remains a key part of our Group's overall business strategy. Business for the cinemas has picked up significantly since the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions".

The company is exploring innovations such as concepts for live performances and e-sports. More information will be released soon, he said.

mm2 acquired Cathay Cineplexes in Singapore in November 2017. The group now operates eight Cathay Cineplexes locations in Singapore. In Malaysia, it operates 12 locations under the mmCineplexes brand.

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Mr Chang ended his comments by thanking cinema patrons, studio partners and suppliers for their support.

Screenwriter Michael Chiang, 66, who penned the comedy Army Daze (1996), said that the film premiered at The Cathay cinema, as did his 2015 film Our Sister Mambo, a film loosely based on the 1950s Hong Kong comedy classic.

Produced to mark Cathay Organisation's 80th anniversary, Mambo features an end-credits dance sequence filmed at the building's entrance.

"I am quite saddened, as the cinema holds great memories for me," he said.

The Cathay Cineplex in 2006. PHOTO: ST FILE

Moviegoers were also saddened by the news.

Ms Prachi Kale, 21, a university student who had studied at the neighbouring School of the Arts, said: “It’s an iconic cinema, so it’s definitely going to feel like something’s missing around the Orchard area when I go there.”

Madam Bernice Toh, 47, who works in the service industry, said: “When I was younger, it was a place I went to relax with my friends on my days off.”

While national serviceman Matthew Ng, 22, who recently caught sleeper hit Everything Everywhere All At Once there, said: “Catching a movie at The Cathay will always be a vibe I’ll remember.”

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