Goh Eng Wah, pioneer of local cinema industry, dies at 92 of congestive cardiac failure

Mr Goh Eng Wah, who was the patriarch of the Eng Wah cinema group, died aged 92 on Sept 5, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

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

The founder of Eng Wah Global died on Sept 5 from congestive cardiac failure at the age of 92, according to a company spokesman. 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 portfolio of brands include WE Cinemas, Hotel Fort Canning and Jubilee Square.

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

The cinema magnate was born in 1923 in Muar, Johor. His father was a rubber trader who died when he was 11. He was uprooted to Singapore at 18, when he fled the Japanese army who 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 his friend out 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 invited Cantonese opera troupes to Singapore.

His first Hokkien film was Tian Ya Ge Nv (The Wandering Songstress, 1958), which marked the screen debut of local actress Zhuang Xuefang, 83.

She 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 really one of the titans in the film industry." 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 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, shares: "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, caring towards his staff."

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

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