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Hollywood comes to Cambodia

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Workers instal seats at the new Legend Cinema in Phnom Penh yesterday. The cinema is scheduled to open on July 7. Photo by: Pha Lina

THE first Phnom Penh cinema licensed to show Hollywood films is set to open in the City Mall early next month, according to company officials.

Legend Cinema is the only company in Cambodia licensed by the Ministry of Culture to distribute such films.

It aims to attract patrons with a select-ion of the latest international releases, Michael Chai, director of the theatre's owner, Westec Media Limited, says.

The US$1.5 million theatre has three screens and 800 seats, including a 3D screen. It is set to open on July 7 with tickets from $4, which Chai says is similar to prices in neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

“Our main target audience is expats and Cambodians [educated abroad], but we expect more Cambodians to start visiting cinemas, as the high-quality service provides a totally different experience from home viewing,” he says.

It is the company’s first operation in Cambodia, but plans for further developments in Phnom Penh are in the pipeline, Chai says.

The first movie to be screened will be Transformers 3, followed by the latest Kung-Fu Panda and X-Men instalments.

Although there are few theatres filling this niche, Legend Cinema faces competition from movie-watchers at home.

The culture of purchasing pirate DVDs, because of the Kingdom’s lack of intellectual property laws, is one of the main reasons behind the lack of cinemas in Cambodia, Chai says.

“There was a similar situation in Malaysia 10 years ago. It was the piracy capital of the world, and only four or five local films were released each year, but some films now gross more than US$1 million there.

“This could be the catalyst for success in Cambodia’s film industry.”

But some who have opened theatres in the Kingdom doubt there will be many local filmgoers at first, given the lack of disposable income.

Although the emergence of new cinemas is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go in enticing people to the big screen when copied DVDs are widely available, Martin Robinson, co-founder of  The Flicks Community Movie House, says.

“It’s unlikely that Cambodian families will pay $4 each to go to the movies when they can stay at home and watch a film that costs around $1,” Robinson says.  ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DON WEINLAND

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