Covid-19 pandemic fallout: Movie business has slowed, but film production continues

Figures from the Singapore Film Commission show that the 2020 Singapore box office totalled $49.6 million. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Just how badly has the pandemic hit Singapore's entertainment companies, in particular those involved in film production, distribution and exhibition?

A check with three companies ranked among Singapore's largest players - Golden Village, mm2 Asia and Clover Films - revealed that while certain sectors of their business have taken a hit over the past 1½ years, they remain in good health.

This comes despite negative news reports about mm2 Asia, the Singapore-based conglomerate with operations that include the Cathay Cineplexes chain as well as film production and distribution.

As reported in The Business Times, an independent auditor has noted a "material uncertainty" about the group's "ability to operate as a going concern". It was an unmodified audit opinion on the group's audited financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2021.

On July 14, the entertainment trade publication Variety also ran a story about the auditor's report with the headline, mm2 Asia Financial Status Questioned By Auditor.

In response to questions from The Straits Times, a spokesman for mm2 Asia says the reports "shine a worse light" on a situation that in reality is not as bad as it appears.

"Many businesses have been affected by Covid-19, mm2 included," she continued, stating that despite the setback, "mm2 is well on the way to recovery".

The spokesman said the company's positive share price performance following a recent rights issue exercise showed investor confidence. In addition, the company has not defaulted on repayment obligations, she said.

She also offered clarifications about technical terms used in auditors' reports and financial statements that are essential to a proper understanding of the text. With that in mind, there is little justification for the pessimistic tone of the Variety headline, she added.

Recently announced mm2 Asia projects, such as the films by three Singapore film-makers - Sean Ng, Daniel Yam and Boi Kwong - are going ahead.

A proposed merger of the Cathay and Golden Village cinema operations is "still in process" and it is "securing the necessary regulatory approvals". There are no plans to change the number of Cathay outlets.

"We are seeing a recovery in attendance numbers," the mm2 Asia spokesman added.

According to figures from the Singapore Film Commission, the 2020 Singapore box office totalled $49.6 million, a drop of 71 per cent from the $175.4 million in the previous year.

A spokesman for Golden Village said the company has "continued to support the marketing and distribution of local films". Over the pandemic season, its slate of releases has included the comedy The Diam Diam Era (2020) and its follow-up, The Diam Diam Era 2 (2021), as well as the satire Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020) and the biographical documentary Andre And His Olive Tree (2021).

Over the pandemic season, Golden VIllage's slate of releases has included the satire Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020). PHOTO: 13 LITTLE PICTURES

Mr Lim Teck, managing director of Singapore distributor and producer Clover Films, said the cinema business as a whole has suffered in the last 18 months due to closures and government-mandated seating capacity limits.

With a return to phase two (heightened alert) from July 22, audience capacity remains capped at 50 without pre-event testing, but cinema operators will not be allowed to sell food and drinks.

Thus far, Clover's releases - such as the South Korean zombie flick Train To Busan: Peninsula (2020) and Hong Kong action thriller Shock Wave 2 (2020) - have performed well despite the restrictions. Peninsula earned $2.9 million, making it the second-highest-grossing film of the year (behind Wonder Woman 1984's $4.7 million) while Shock Wave 2's $1.6 million takings put it in eighth place, said Mr Lim.

Clover is also going ahead with a slate of films co-produced with Chinese streaming platform iQiyi, to be helmed by film-makers Kelvin Tong, Melvin Mak, Ong Kuo Sin and Tay Ping Hui, to be released next year (2022) and in 2023.

The filming, to be done in Singapore and regional locations, will be among the first major productions carried out under Covid-19 hygiene guidelines, which recommend the use of split and remote teams, for example. The first to be filmed will be Ong's Chinese New Year comedy Reunion Dinner.

"Filming under those conditions can be stressful, but it can be done," Mr Lim said.

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