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ABOUT SHAW   /   Borneo, Post War
Borneo, Post War
Shaw Cinemas, Borneo, Post War (1945-1970)

'Hantu Jerangkong' character giving out flyers, Lido, Labuan, 1958

In Borneo, the cinemas that were operated by the Shaws in the decades following the war include Union, Grand and Capitol, Jesselton, Sabah; New Gaiety, Papar, Sabah; Lido, Labuan, Sabah; Liberty, Rex (1958) and Tai Koon, Sandakan; Beaufort, Beaufort, Sabah; Lacin, Lahd Datu, Sabah;

Capitol (1957), Lido and Rex, Kuching, Sarawak; Lido, Sibu, Sarawak; Miri Theatre, Miri, Sarawak; Lutong Theatre, Lutong, Sarawak. In Brunei, Shaw owned the Hassanel Bolkiah theatre and the Capitol in Kuala Belait.

For the territory of Borneo, Mr Chin Kee Meng was the general manager.

He took over from Lee Hong Cheng who was the General Manager there during the pre-war days.

It was a challenging exercise bringing cinema entertainment to 'Dayak country'. In the pre-war years, cinema staff and equipment travelled by boat which took a couple of days. The boat most commonly used was the 'Rajah Brooke'.

Capitol, Jesselton

Lido, Sibu

Lido, Kuching

Capitol, Kuching

Later, with flight services, they could be airlifted from Singapore. Staff who were sent there had to be prepared to live among very simple people and basic conditions. They also had to deal with touts and country 'rough necks' who proved a threat to the business. However, living in such 'isolated' territory did not dampen the creative spirit of the staff who proved year after year that they could throw the best promotional stunts and events anywhere.

Utilising long boats and trucks, movie banners plied the roads and rivers promoting films. Local stuntmen and Dayak natives dressed as movie characters worked the towns.

Best were the public displays which marked the anniversary celebrations of Shaw Brothers.

This was celebrated every year throughout the Federation, Singapore and Brunei.

As part of the celebrations, prices in all cinemas and amusement parks would be slashed by half. In Kuching and other parts of Borneo, lion dances, juggling and fancy dress parade entertained the thousands of spectators. The Shaw anniversary celebrations ended abruptly in the 1980s.

Hantu promo, Lido Labuan, 1958

Excitement mounted in 1957 when Malay Film Productions invaded Borneo for the filming of 'The Long House'. It was an Eastmancolor film directed by Phani Majumdar with European star Kenny Buchanan. Generators had to be strapped to rafts and transported up-river to the long houses near the town of Kapit, Sarawak.

Complications plagued production from the start, beginning with the unpredictable weather and Kenny contracting chicken pox. Finding a lead actress was also difficult as most of the Iban girls had to guard paddy fields during the harvest period when the film was shot. The actress also had to speak English and Malay which further narrowed the possibilities.

Finally, a young Iban girl by the name of 'Luli' - coincidentally also the name of her character in the script - was discovered. She proved a born artiste and a singer.

The film premiered at the Capitol in Singapore where Luli made a personal appearance. She sang the opening number on a set of a long house specially built on the Capitol stage.

Later, accompanied by her father, Luli toured the Federation and made headline news everywhere.

The Rex became the center stage for what was 'the talk of the town' in 1962. That year, Shaw's pageant franchise - 'The Miss International Beauty Contest' - added 'Miss Borneo'. In previous years, the contest involved only Singapore and Malaysia. After preliminary rounds were held in various towns of Borneo, the finals were held at the Rex, Kuching.

Initially, finding contestants in Borneo was extremely difficult. A contest organiser in Kuching lamented, in a letter to the head office, "People here are narrow-minded. They do not like to let their daughters be exhibited in public."

Grand, Jesselton

The deadline for entires had to be postponed twice because the initial month of advertising only yielded two contestants. One was disqualified for being "unrespectable".

Eventually, 12 contestants joined and Ms Jane Lim of Sandakan was chosen as 'Miss Borneo 1962'. She went on to comptete for the Miss International title in Long Beach, California and made the news there when she became ill after eating pizza with chop suey for 'diplomacy's sake'.

In the 1960s, Shaw studios in Hong Kong launched its publicity blitz upon the Shaw circuit which included personal appearences by popular stars. Visiting celebrities would perform in the cinema halls which had a stage for live shows.

A notable visitor to Borneo was Julie Shih Yen of 'His Lucky Star' fame who sang at the Capitol and Lido, Jesselton in 1963.

She also performed at Sandakan and Kuching where she brought packed houses down.

Other visiting celebrities to Borneo include Bai Kwang (1950), Lam Kar Yee (1953) and Pearl Au Kar Wei (1959).

Besides celebrities, amateurs also performed on stage in conjunction with the promotion of films. In 1965, talentime contests were held all over Borneo. The most hotly contested were held at Lido, Kuching to promote the Mandarin film 'Lover's Rock' and at Miri in conjunction with 'Just For You'.

Live Show in Lido Sibu, Borneo

Luli and Jaffar Abdullah, Shaw Malay department liaison officer, 1957

Ms Jane Lim, Miss Borneo 1962

Julie Shih Yen, 1963

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