Historic Singaporean cinema Cathay Cineplex at Handy Road to close: “A business decision”

The movie theatre will have its final screening on June 26, but independent cinema The Projector will start a pop-up there in August

The historic Singaporean movie theatre Cathay Cineplex, located at 2 Handy Road, will cease operations this month. Independent cinema The Projector will then open a pop-up there in August.

The news of the closure was announced June 17 by its operator mm2 Asia, which acquired Cathay Cineplexes in 2017. Its last screening will take place on the night of Sunday, June 26. The cineplex’s lease concludes July 23, according to a Cathay Organisation press release.

The closure comes “as part of the cost rationalisation for its cinema operations”, read a mm2 Asia press release, with Group CEO Chang Long Jong calling it “a business decision” in a statement.

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“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,” he added. (Cathay’s other cinema in the Orchard shopping belt is located at Cineleisure on 8 Grange Road.)

The Projector, which has its primary location at Golden Mile Tower on Beach Road, will open a pop-up dubbed Projector X: Picturehouse in The Cathay on August 23, where it will curate films and live performances and operate a cocktail and craft beer bar. A press release did not state when the pop-up will end.

“We are super stoked with this unique opportunity to explore and experiment at The Cathay, an iconic grand dame from 1939, which has a storied past and is synonymous with an illustrious chapter in local cinematic history,” The Projector founder Karen Tan said in a statement.

The Cathay Building in Singapore in 1947
The Cathay Building in Singapore in 1947. Credit: J. R. T. Richardson/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Cathay Cineplex on Handy Road is one of eight Cathay cinemas in Singapore. The Cathay Building was first established in 1939 by Cathay Organisation and founder Dato Loke Wan Tho. It was the first air-conditioned cinema in Singapore and the first cinema to screen American and British films in the country, according to its website.

The Cathay has a colourful history, having housed the offices of the Malayan Broadcasting Corporation early on in World War II. When Singapore fell to the Japanese, the Cathay Building was used to house the Japanese Propaganda Department, which took over the existing broadcasting equipment, and its restaurant became a dining room for Japanese military officers stationed in the building. After WWII, it became the headquarters for notable British officers, including Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia.

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In 2003, The Cathay Building was gazetted as a national monument, preserving the building’s iconic art deco facade. After redevelopment, it reopened in its current form as The Cathay in 2006, with a new complex designed by Japanese architect Paul Tange.

mm2 Asia Group CEO Chang said that it would be “business as usual” at the other Cathay cinemas in Singapore, assuring that “the cinema exhibition business remains a key part of our Group’s overall business strategy”.

He added: “Business for the cinemas has picked up significantly since the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions, and we are actively exploring new cinema innovations that incorporate concepts for live house, esports, as well as other offerings and locations, which we hope to be able to share more soon.”

Chang thanked “cinema patrons, studio partners and suppliers for their continued support” in his statement. “We look forward to continuing to serve you at our Cathay Cineplexes locations across Singapore.”

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