MegaStar Media last night officially opened its first cinema in Ho Chi Minh City, which is also the biggest in Vietnam, as part of its continuous efforts in redefining the country's exhibition landscape.

Vietnam's minister of culture, sports and tourism, Hoang Tuan Anh, was among the guests at the gala opening of the MegaStar Cineplex Hung Voung Plaza 8. Also present were MegaStar co-founder Ted Shugrue, Bristol Media's Tony Manne and Warner Bros vice president, Asia, Erlina Suharjono.

Located in the biggest shopping mall in the densely populated District 5 of Ho Chi Minh (previously known as Saigon), the new cinema has eight screens and 1,442 seats.

Bourne Ultimatum was premiered at the gala opening, while the cinema is also playing Rush Hour 3, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Sky Fighters and Shrek The Third.

While most of Vietnam's cinemas are standalones, with only a few running up to four screens, new player MegaStar now boasts 30 screens at four sites, already making it the country's biggest cinema chain.

In addition to the new six-screen cinema with 786 seats at the Saigon Co-Op Mart in the city of Bien Hoa, it has also opened eight-screen multiplexes in the coastal city of Hai Phong and the national capital Hanoi.

'Our cinema in Hanoi [opened in April last year] has become the biggest grossing cinema in Vietnam. We believe that by offering such facilities in other major cities we can revive cinema-going culture, which had dropped off most people's menu of things-to-do, due to poor facilities, piracy and late arrival of titles into the market,' says Ian Riches, MegaStar's deputy general manager for construction and operations.

Industry veteran Shugrue, with whom Riches worked at Loews Cineplex, is the driving force behind MegaStar, which was set up as a joint venture between his Envoy Media Partners (80%) and local publishing company Phuong Nam (20%).

Next year, MegaStar has further major plans for expansion. At least two more cinemas are being planned for Ho Chi Minh City, including one in the rapidly developing An Phu District, while another is due to open in the central coastal town Da Nang in January. By 2010, it expects to have 12 complexes with about 90 screens.

MegaStar also distributes titles for UIP, Buena Vista International and more recently Sony Picture Releasing International.