Goh Eng Wah



Goh Eng Wah (b. 1923, Muar, Johor, Malaysia–d. 5 September 2015, Singapore) was one of the pioneers of Singapore's film industry. He founded Eng Wah Organisation (now known as Eng Wah Global) in 1946,1 a major film distributor and cinema operator in Singapore specialising in the screening of Chinese movies from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Today, the company has diverse investments in entertainment, hospitality and real estate in Singapore and Malaysia. Its portfolio of brands include WE Cinemas, Hotel Fort Canning and Jubilee Square.2

Early life
Goh was born in 1923 in Muar, Johor. He was the sixth child in his family, and had five elder sisters and a younger brother. His father, a rubber trader, passed away when he was 11 years old. After completing his secondary school education, Goh wanted to further his studies in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, he had to hold back his plans because of the Japanese Occupation (1942–45). Having heard rumours that the Japanese military was rounding up students, Goh fled to Singapore at the age of 18 to live with his sister and brother-in-law. While waiting for the war to end, Goh made his living selling vegetables and Chinese herbal medicine.3


Career
After the Japanese Occupation, a friend with experience in film exhibition approached Goh to partner in a business to import and screen Shanghai films in Singapore and Malaya. They rented a performance stage from the Happy World amusement park (later renamed Gay World), which they renovated and opened as Victory Theatre. However, the two men parted ways when his friend lost interest and the business faileo. Goh then became the sole proprietor of Victory Theatre, while his friend assumed control of a cinema in Kota Tinggi, Johor.4

As Goh had little industry experience then, he initially hired a booking agent to help him with the acquisition of English films from American distribution offices in Singapore such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Studios and Columbia Pictures, while he sourced for Chinese films. He picked up the skills of the trade from the agent and over time established his own contacts with the distribution companies. He also learnt by observing how big players such as Shaw and Cathay operated their cinemas.5

In the 1950s, Goh became a shareholder of two more cinemas, Happy Theatre and Silver World, at the Happy World amusement park. This paved the way to his eventual management of Happy World.6 In 1966, Jubilee Theatre at North Bridge Road was added to the fold.7 On 24 July 1968, Eng Wah Theatres Organisation Pte Ltd was incorporated for the purpose of acquiring the now defunct King's Theatre at Kim Tian Road.8

Besides film exhibition, Goh also ventured into Chinese film production from the late 1950s to the ’70s. Under the banner of Eng Wah Film Company, the company initially produced Amoy (or Hokkien) and Cantonese films in Hong Kong, but later shifted its focus to making Mandarin movies in Taiwan when these became more popular. These movies were distributed throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Some notable movies include Miss Singapore (新加坡小姐;1959), The Magic Whip (神鞭侠;1968), Teddy Girls (飞女正传;1969), and Hiroshima 28 (广岛廿八;1974).9 His first Hokkien film, The Wandering Songstress(天涯歌女; 1958), starred local actress Zhuang Xuefang (庄雪芳)who later became known as the Queen of Amoy films.10 Goh also brought in  stars like Patrick Tse, Alan Tang, Siu Fong Fong and Fong Po Po to promote movies in Singapore.11

In 1972, Goh created another milestone by opening a cinema in Toa Payoh, the first of his cinemas to be operated in a Housing and Development Board (HDB) estate. He went on to open more cinemas: Mandarin Theatre in Kallang, Empress Theatre in Clementi, Jubilee Theatre in Ang Mo Kio, Marina Theatre in Marina Square and Hollywood Theatre in Tanjong Katong. By this time, the company had established itself as a leader in the exhibition of Chinese films.12

In the 1980s, the ageing Goh began to hand over the reins of his company to his four children. By the ’90s, the company's daily operations were managed by his children, who were all executive directors of the company, while he remained as chairman.13 Under their management, Eng Wah Organisation (later Eng Wah Global) underwent several phases of modernisation, which saw the inclusion of English-language films in their programming, conversion of cinemas to cineplexes, refurbishment of cinemas, introduction of premium services and digital projection. The company also diversified into other forms of investment such as property leasing and hospitality.14 Eng Wah Organisation became a publicly listed company on 4 July 1994.15

Death

Goh passed away on 5 September 2015 at the age of 92 due to congestive cardiac failure.16

Family17
Wife: Mok Yuet Heng
Sons: Goh Keng Soon and Goh Keng Beng
Daughters: Goh Min Lu and Goh Min Yen



Author

Heirwin Mohd Nasir



References
1. Eng Wah Global. (2015). About us. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from Eng Wah Global website: http://engwah.com.sg/aboutus.aspx
2. Chan, B. (2015, September 8). Cinema magnate 'a father figure': Mr Goh Eng Wah, who produced films and screened them in his cinema chain, was caring towards his staff. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest; Lim, A. (2013, July 4). Goodbye leaping tiger, hello Tigerair. MyPaper. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24; Mak, M. S. (2007, November 3). The cinema man. The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 19). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/1]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 19). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 19). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website:  http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Mak, M. S. (2007, November 3). The cinema man. The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 19). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/3]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 25). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/4]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 25). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/5]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 25). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/5]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, June 25). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Eng Wah Global. (2015, September 7). Demise of founder of Eng Wah Global, Mr Goh Eng Wah. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from Eng Wah Global website: http://engwah.com.sg/newsroom.aspx; Fong, L. (1973, July 25). Govt takes over Gay World. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, July 17). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/8]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 21). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Page 35 advertisements column 1. (1994, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, July 17). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/8]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 21). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p .24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, July 17). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/8]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 14). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/9]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 14). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/10]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 21). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; HKMDB. (n.d.). Hong Kong Rong Hua Co. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from HKMDB website; http://hkmdb.com/db/companies/view.mhtml?id=781&display_set=eng; Eng Wah Global. (2015, September 7). Demise of founder of Eng Wah Global, Mr Goh Eng Wah. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from Eng Wah Global website: http://engwah.com.sg/newsroom.aspx; Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought Goliaths. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chan, B. (2015, September 7). Goh Eng Wah, pioneer of local cinema industry, dies at 92 of congestive cardiac failure. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from The Straits Times website: http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/entertainment/goh-eng-wah-pioneer-of-local-cinema-industry-dies-at-92-of-congestive; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, July 17). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/8]; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 14). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/9]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Kong, K. Y. (2010, August 20). Zhuang Xue Fang: The Queen of Amoy films. Retrieved from MusicSG.
11. Mak, M. S. (2007, November 3). The cinema man. The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Page 35 advertisements column 1. (1994, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 35; Prema, L. E. (1988, December 1). Eng Wah to operate two Marina Square cinemas. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24; Long, S. (1997, May 25). Have to work hard. Got no choice. The Straits Times, p. 20; Page 35 advertisements column 1. (1994, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 35; Mak, M. S. (2007, November 3). The cinema man. The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Loh, S. (1994, June 12). The David who fought GoliathsThe Straits Times, p. 24; Ho, K. (2002, October 2). Eng Wah goes placesThe Straits Times, p. 3; Long, S. (1997, May 25). Have to work hard. Got no choice. The Straits Times, p. 20; Page 35 advertisements column 1. (1994, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 35; Prema, L. E. (1988, December 1). Eng Wah to operate two Marina Square cinemas. The Straits Times, p. 26.; Li, X. (1998, March 28). Bigger, better cinemas. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Eng Wah Global (2016). About us. Retrieved 2016, September 15 from Eng Wah Global website: https://www.wecinemas.com.sg/aboutus.aspx; Chua, J. (Interviewer). (1997, August 28). Oral history interview with Goh Eng Wah [MP3 recording no. 001907/14/13]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Uhde, J., & Uhde, Y. (2010). Latent images: Film in Singapore. Singapore: Ridge Books, pp. 218–219. (Call no.: RSING 791.43095957 UHD)
15. Page 35 advertisements column 1. (1994, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
16. Chan, B. (2015, September 8). Cinema magnate 'a father figure': Mr Goh Eng Wah, who produced films and screened them in his cinema chain, was caring towards his staff. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17. Obituaries. (2015, September 7). [Microfilm no.: NL 33624]. The Straits Times, p. C8



Further resources
Started screening Chinese hits in ‘40s. (1998, March 28). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Wong, K. H. (2005, November 27). Naked ambition. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we can 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
Recreation
Pioneers--Singapore
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Theatre
Motion pictures-- Singapore
Pioneers
Arts
Personalities
Businesspeople--Singapore
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers
Theatre
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Leisure and entertainment
Sports and Recreation