Cathay Organisation



Cathay Organisation is a leisure and entertainment group with businesses in film exhibition and distribution as well as cinema, hotel and leisure centre management. Cathay is also involved in property management, and advertising and event organisation. Founded by the Loke family in 1935, the group’s traditional business was in film distribution, exhibition and production, with Cathay studios in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong playing an important role in the film industry from the 1950s to the ’70s.1 Cathay’s revenues amounted to around S$70 million in 2009.2

Early history
When rubber and tin tycoon Loke Yew died in February 1917, his wife Loke Cheng Kim (Mrs Loke Yew) took over the management of his assets.3 To take advantage of Malaya’s growing cinema industry, she and three partners incorporated Associated Theatres Ltd in Singapore in July 1935. The partners were Khoo Teik Ee, a relative; Max Baker, a British friend; and Loke Yew’s son Loke Wan Tho, then an undergraduate at Cambridge University.4


Khoo managed Associated Theatres’ businesses, which were initially film distribution and exhibition. He oversaw the completion of the company’s first cinema, the 1,200-seater Pavilion, in Kuala Lumpur in 1936.5 In the same year, Mrs Loke Yew, Khoo and Loke Wan Tho embarked on a project to build the Cathay Cinema and building “as part of their contribution towards the modernising of the Colony”.6 The Cathay Building featured the country’s first air-conditioned cinema, the first high-rise with 16 storeys of apartments, a restaurant and a hotel.7 The 1,300-seat Cathay Cinema opened on 3 October 1939 with the screening of The Four Feathers.8 Cathay Restaurant opened in 1940, while the apartment block was completed in 1941.9

Loke Wan Tho returned to Singapore in 1940 and joined the business.10 However, the Japanese invasion of 1942 forced the Loke family to evacuate to India. During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Cathay Building was occupied by the Japanese military information bureau, and the broadcasting and military propaganda departments. Cathay Cinema was renamed Dai Toa Gekiyo (Greater East Asian Theatre) and screened Japanese propaganda films.11 After the war, Cathay Building was used by Supreme Allied Commander Louis Mountbatten as his headquarters.12 The British military vacated  the building on 15 February 1949.13

In 1947, Cathay’s Caravan Films expanded into Malaya by screening movies on small projection units in the villages there.14 In 1948, Loke was approached by Malayan film industry veteran Ho Ah Loke, with whom he set up Associated International and Loke Theatres for film distribution and exhibition. The company began acquiring and building cinemas in Malaya and Singapore to expand its network.15 At its peak in the 1970s, Associated boasted of 75 cinemas, and a distribution network that spanned Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe and Latin America.16

Cathay-Keris Studio
Ho had previously managed the Keris film studio. In 1953, he partnered Loke to form Cathay-Keris Studio. Located on East Coast Road in Singapore, Cathay-Keris added film production to the Lokes’ exhibition and distribution network. It thrived on bringing the best out of its acting, directing and technical talent, with Loke visiting studios in India to learn movie-making techniques and bringing in talent coaches from Hollywood.17


The studio featured talents like directors B. N. Rao and Balden Singh Rajhans, who were lured from Shaw, composer Zubir Said, and actress Maria Menado. It produced films like Orang Minyak (The Oily Man), the Pontianak horror series, and Shi Zi Cheng (Lion City). The studio also ventured into international co-productions such as Bajau Anak Laut (Bajau Children of the Sea), which was filmed in the Philippines with a Filipino cast and crew. The release of Buloh Perindu (Magic Flute) in 1953, the first local movie to be produced in colour, was a milestone in the history of Singapore film-making.18

By 1960, Ho had left Cathay-Keris, taking with him the rights and prints of movies that he had produced, including Buloh Perindu and Pontianak. The Studio Era and Singapore’s film-making industry was in decline from the 1960s, with much of the talent and productions moving to Malaysia. The sudden death of Loke in a plane crash in June 1964 seemed to herald the end of an era for Cathay.19

Between 1968 and 1972, only three directors – Noordin Ahmad, Mat Sentol and M Amin  – remained contracted to Cathay, producing 22 movies during this period. In 1973, Cathay-Keris stopped making films, having turned out more than 200 films since its establishment.20

In 1996, Cathay made a return to the movie-making scene when it set up Cathay Asia Films. Among its productions were Michael Chiang’s Army Daze (1996) and Jack Neo’s That One No Enough (1999). In 2003, the company invested in the Thai film, Last Life In The Universe, which was produced by Bohemian Films, an American company.21

Chinese film industry
Loke had been cultivating ties with the Chinese film industry since the mid-1940s, and he began distributing films made by the Yung Hwa studio in Hong Kong. In 1958, Loke formed Motion Picture & General Investment Co. Ltd (MP & GI), which took over Yung Hwa’s operations and was later renamed Cathay Organisation (HK) in 1965, in alignment with the renaming of Associated Theatres Ltd as Cathay Organisation in 1959.22


Between 1956 and 1970, Cathay produced around 250 movies in Hong Kong that were distributed in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. These included its first hit, Mambo Nu Lang (Mambo Girl) (1957), and Si Qian Jin (Our Sister Hedy) (1957). Loke emphasised artistic quality in his films, and a number of them earned critical recognition and awards.23

Cathay was a dominant presence in the Hong Kong film industry until the mid-1960s, when its competitor, Shaw, began to reap the rewards of its gigantic, modern studio at Clearwater Bay. Cathay Organisation (HK) subsequently lost its market share and was closed in 1970.24

Consolidation and diversification
Having established bowling alley, Jackie’s Bowl, at the junction of Orchard Road and Grange Road in 1964,25 Cathay opened a branch in Katong in 1965.26 In 1979, the company moved into property development, building Gallop Villas in Singapore.27


Following the closure of its Singapore and Hong Kong studios in the early 1970s, Cathay focused on its successful distribution and exhibition businesses. In 1971, it opened a drive-in cinema in Jurong, the first in Singapore and Malaysia.28 By 1980, the Cathay network had reached its peak of 75 cinemas. Four years later, it divested most of its cinemas in Malaysia. Cathay also rationalised its operations in Singapore, after its business was threatened by pirated videos and a recession.29

From the mid-1990s, Cathay looked to establish itself again in the Malaysian market, and increased its number of screens there through a series of joint ventures. By 2006, Cathay had a 15 percent share of Malaysia’s box-office takings.30

Cathay Properties was formed in 1994 to provide property management services. Cathay later ventured into the construction and management of hotels, retail malls and leisure centres as well as advertising and event management services.31

Public listing and new developments
Cathay opened Singapore’s first arthouse cinema, The Picturehouse, in 1990. It went on to develop the S$160-million Cineleisure Orchard. Completed in 1997, the building houses cinemas, restaurants, retail outlets and other leisure concepts.32

In 1999, under the stewardship of chairman Choo Meileen (Loke Wan Tho’s niece), Loke’s dream of a public listing was finally realised when Cathay was listed on the Stock Exchange of Singapore, following a reverse takeover of Sesdaq-listed IMM Multi-Enterprise.33 The listed company was renamed Cathay Organisation Holdings Ltd, and consolidated its cinema business (Cathay Cineplexes Pte Ltd), bowling operations (Cathay Bowl Pte Ltd), film acquisition and distribution (Cathay-Keris Films Pte Ltd), entertainment centre management services (Cathay Cineleisure International Pte Ltd) and property management services (Cathay Properties Pte Ltd).34

In 2000, Cathay announced that it would redevelop Cathay Building, demolishing much of the landmark Art Deco building but retaining its façade, which was gazetted as a national monument in February 2003. The Cathay reopened in 2006 with a new S$96-million complex – containing cinema halls, retail space and a residential block – that seamlessly integrates the original façade with a modern glass structure.35

In 2006, Cathay Organisation voluntarily delisted from the Exchange. At the time, Cathay held about 25 percent share in Singapore’s box office.36 It expanded its presence further afield when it joined with the Emaar Malls Group to run an initial two cineplexes in Dubai, with potential cineplexes in up to 150 retail malls in the Middle-East.37

Cathay started digitising its archive of films at the beginning of 1995. By 2000, more than 230 Chinese and Malay films had been digitally restored at a cost of S$3.8 million. In 2004, the company donated 213 of its Chinese films to the Hong Kong Film Archive for preservation. A donation of 90 Malay films to the Singapore Asian Film Archives followed in 2007.38



Author
Alvin Chua




References
1. Cathay Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). About Cathay. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/corporate.html; Tong, K. (2000, April 4). Akan datang: Cathay’s new home. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, J. (2010, November 4). Cathay puts up impressive showThe Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
4. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
5. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
6. Jap bombs could not shake its spirit. (1949, September 25). The Malaya Tribune, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Tong, K. (2000, April 4). Akan datang: Cathay’s new home. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM); Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
9. Jap bombs could not shake its spirit. (1949, September 25). The Malaya Tribune, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)\
11. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
12. Eu, G. (2006, March 10). The Cathay comes homeThe Business Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
13. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 107. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
14. Tong, K. (2000, April 4). Akan datang: Cathay’s new home. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 32, 34. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
16. Tong, K. (2000, April 4). Akan datang: Cathay’s new home. The Straits Times, p. 4; Lee, J. (2010, November 4). Cathay puts up impressive show. The Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 33–44. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
18. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 33–44. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
19. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 33–44. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
20. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
21. Elias, R. (1999, April 21). Cathay’s dream comes trueThe Business Times, p. 16; Oon, C. (2002, November 21). Cathay goes regional. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 54, 56. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
23. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 54, 56. (Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL)
24. Lim, K. T. (1991). Cathay: 55 years of cinema. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 167. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 LIM)
25. Cathay Organisation to bring bowling to Malaysia. (1963, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cathay Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). Corporate history: 1950–1969: A movie empire emerges. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/corporate_milestones2.html
26. Koh, T. (1995, January 3). Singapore’s oldest bowling alley closes. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspapeSG.
27. Cathay Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). Corporate history: 1970–1989: Period of expansion & diversification. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/corporate_milestones3.html
28. History in the making. (2005, July 15). The Straits Times, p. 5; First drive-in cinema opens in July. (1971, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Elias, R. (1999, July 22). Long history peppered with highs and lows. The Business Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Sim, B. K. (2006, January 18). Cathay eyes bigger share of box office. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://www.eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
31. Cathay Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). Property services. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/property.html
32. Cathay to open S$160m leisure centre by year-end. (1997, January 28). The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Chuang, P. M. (2005, December 21). Cathay Organisation shares surge on delisting offer. The Business Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Elias, R. (1999, April 21). Cathay’s dream comes trueThe Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cathay Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). Corporate history: 1990–2008: A dream come true. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/corporate_milestones4.html
35. Eu, G. (2006, March 10). The Cathay comes homeThe Business Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Organisation Holdings Limited. (2009). Corporate history: 1990–2008: A dream come true. Retrieved 2017, April 25 from Cathay Organisation website: http://www.cathayproperties.com.sg/corporate_milestones4.html; Ee, J. (2006, October 7). On the screen near you: War of the ‘plexes. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Ee, J. (2007, October 30). Coming soon: Cineplexes run by Cathay in DubaiThe Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Zul Othman. (2007, September 7). Legend of Malay classics lives on. Today, p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Real estate business--Singapore
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Corporations--Singapore
Motion picture industry--Singapore