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Hong Kong’s iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant, sinking under mounting losses, is leaving the city. Photo: Sam Tsang

Troubled Hong Kong floating restaurant’s film and video game appearances and the movie stars who ate there, including Tom Cruise and Gong Li

  • The Jumbo Floating Restaurant, built by casino mogul Stanley Ho in the 1970s, is the latest victim of the pandemic, with reported losses of over US$12 million
  • It has appeared in films such as Contagion, video games and books, and had millions of visitors, including Queen Elizabeth, Tom Cruise and Richard Branson

These are uncertain times for the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, the neon-drenched tourist attraction that’s been a fixture in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen harbour for almost 50 years.

News that the restaurant was in trouble surfaced in March 2020, when it announced it would close its doors until further notice. The coronavirus outbreak, which has battered the hospitality and tourism industries, had snared another victim.

Since then the world’s largest floating restaurant has racked up jumbo losses, reportedly in excess of HK$100 million (US$12.7 million), forcing the parent company Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises to announce this week that it was unable to afford the operating and maintenance costs and would look for a new home outside the city.

“Over the past year, [the company] has had discussions with more than a dozen companies and organisations regarding its unconditional offer to donate the Jumbo Floating Restaurant,” it said. “However there was no taker, with all parties citing high operating costs.”

The grand opening of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen in 1976. Photo: SCMP
Macau tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun speaking at the opening ceremony of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Photo: SCMP
Former American president Jimmy Carter (second left) and his wife Rosalyn at the Jumbo Restaurant in Aberdeen in 1985. Photo: SCMP
The Jumbo Floating Restaurant in 1977. Photo: SCMP

Construction of the restaurant began in 1971 but before it could open, a huge fire ransacked the site, killing 34 and injuring 42. Its owner subsequently sold the restaurant to Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, who spent four years repairing and building the three-level, 76-metre-long restaurant, which opened in October 1976. (The nearby Tai-Pak Floating Restaurant was acquired in 1987, with the two locations becoming known as Jumbo Kingdom.)

The red, gold and green structure, embellished with dragons and pagodas – the design inspired by an Chinese Imperial palace – has attracted millions of tourists, including royalty (Queen Elizabeth), sporting greats (Brazilian footballer Pele) billionaire businessmen (Virgin boss Richard Branson) and political heavyweights (former US president Jimmy Carter).

Hong Kong’s Jumbo floating restaurants: a stroll down memory lane

Movie stars Tom Cruise, Gong Li and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few, have also graced its decks.

It can also be seen in films, television shows and video games. Here we look at some of its “roles” in pop culture.

Films and TV

With a saturation of neon lights, it’s not surprising the Jumbo Kingdom caught the attention of location scouts, the restaurants making “appearances” in local films including Jackie Chan’s The Protector (1985), Infernal Affairs II (2003) and The God of Cookery, the 1996 comedy starring and directed by Stephen Chow.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant appears in the Jackie Chan film The Protector (1985).
In an eerie example of life imitating art, the Jumbo Floating Restaurant can also be seen in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion about a fast-moving mystery virus that kills millions of people globally.
In the film, US star Gwyneth Paltrow plays patient zero who contracts the virus from a chef working in a casino in Hong Kong who had handled a slaughtered pig that had been infected by a bat. Soderbergh shot the casino scenes at the restaurant.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant also features in the 1988 miniseries Noble House, starring Pierce Brosnan and based on the 1981 novel by James Clavell.

In episode two of the four-part series, the “Floating Dragon” restaurant catches fire during a party. The disaster was based on a real event, when the original Jumbo restaurant went up in flames in October, 1971, before it had even opened, killing 34 people and injuring 42. The restaurant was rebuilt and opened five years later by Ho.

The burnt-out shell of the Jumbo can be seen in the 1973 action thriller Enter The Dragon, starring Bruce Lee in his last film.

The Jumbo restaurant caught fire in 1971, killing 34 people and delaying its opening until 1976. Photo: SCMP

Video games

The Jumbo Kingdom appears in all its neon glory in Fatal Fury 2 and Fatal Fury Special, popular fighting games released in the early 1990s by Japanese video game company, SNK.

The night fight scene takes place on a pier next to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a dragon statue in the background.

One of the fighters is Cheng Sinzana, a wealthy Hong Kong businessman married to a former Miss Hong Kong, who is one of the hero characters of the Fatal Fury series. The restaurant also features in Fatal Fury Special, a game from the same series.

In Sleeping Dogs, a 2012 martial arts video game, one action scene features a mission on a floating restaurant called BigLee that was modelled after the Jumbo Kingdom.