IT was 5.15pm. Only 18 tickets had been sold for the 5.45pm screening and few passers-by bothered to even look at the posters for the movie playing at the Triumph cinema in Tsuen Wan last Tuesday. But usher Wong Mong-lun was busier than normal; it was the last day of the 12-year-old cinema. He was throwing away wooden hoarding, tearing off movie posters, and cleaning the lobby; very different from his normal duties. After the final screening at 11.30pm, the cinema became part of history when it closed its doors to the public for the last time. The Triumph is the latest in a long line of old-style cinemas which have closed down in the past few years, reflecting the trend in the territory. Since the demolition of the Palace and venerable Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay, the big-screen cinemas have gradually given way to multiplexes or been re-developed for other commercial use. One of the largest and oldest cinemas in Hong Kong, the 1,800-seat Chu Kong cinema in To Kwa Wan, closed its doors in 1994 after 30 years and last March the 1,366-seat Golden Hung Kei in North Point also ceased operation. But the number of multiplexes have been rising in tandem. Out of the 105 cinemas in the territory, 50 have more than one screen. Chui Hin-wai, vice-president of the Hong Kong Theatre Association, said the overwhelming trend was for traditional big cinemas to either close down or change into what is also called a cineplex. 'After the lease is up, big cinemas are usually demolished and converted to other uses to earn more money. Shopping malls or arcades are more lucrative compared to just having cinemas.' Some are turned into mini-cinemas which can hold more screenings, helping to increase the occupancy rate and cut operating costs. 'It can be a big difference. If it is changed to a mini-cinema, operators can save a lot on electricity, maintenance and the cost of wages,' Chui said. 'The public can go to the cineplex to watch films, shop and eat, which helps the place thrive. 'It is a mutually beneficial relationship for cinema operators and developers,' he said. Some buildings maintain the upper floor for cinemas and convert the lower level into shopping malls and arcades, as in the cases of the Ocean, Pearl, Jade and Century theatres, he said. Film studio Golden Harvest, which also owns 11 cinemas, noted the success of cineplexes. 'Audience have a choice of films, so different viewers will be able to watch the movies of their liking,' said Golden Harvest distribution manager Max Mok. He said mini-cinemas could use one of the screens for months-long runs of quality or alternative films; this cannot be done by big ones. 'Usually, we provide a variety of movies including drama, action and comedy at the same cinema complex, to attract more people. 'The aggregate admission of three or four movies will be higher than that of a single movie,' he said. The global trend was for developers and cinema operators to build multi-screen cinemas because of better box-office results, he noted. Golden Harvest, too, is taking the same route and will no longer develop big single-screen cinemas in future, he said. The strategy clearly works. While purists may feel nostalgic about the demise of grand old cinemas and wide screens, multiplexes have found favour with consumers like Cheung Po-wah, 22. A frequent movie-goer, she said location and variety were the most important criteria in selecting cinemas. Cheung found cineplexes more 'convenient', adding that she had not visited a big cinema in the past two years. 'Even if I cannot buy tickets for what I particularly want to see, there are other choices. 'Besides, they are modern, clean and comfortable compared with the big ones,' she said. Proximity to restaurants and shopping malls was also a plus factor. Another movie-goer, Lee Sau-wai, 23, concurred; she had not been to a big-screen cinema for over four years. 'The environment in mini-cinemas is better, and there is more variety,' she said. According to Chui, cinema operators found business increasingly difficult because of decreasing consumption, declining quality of local productions and competition from other formats such as videos and CD-ROMs. 'Some films are available [in other formats] even earlier than formal screenings,' he said. Cine-Art in Wan Chai is one of the pioneer operators which has carved a niche in up-market and alternative films. When the cinema opened in 1987, Chui said, none of the big film distributors would deal with it as it was too small. 'We started to find our own films and accidentally found that providing alternative films can be a success. It is really a miracle. 'The target audience is more stable. They are not very much subject to economic setbacks and thus the box office is protected,' said Chui, who is also the owner of Cine-Art. With their success, other cinemas such as the Golden Gateway and Astor Classics followed suit. At the other end of the spectrum, however, some operators have found survival in blue movies. Among them is the UVD circuit, the largest supplier of soft-porn films in the territory. The owner, who would only give his name as Shin, said the market for pornographic films was steadier than for other genres and posed a lower risk.