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Ung Thi (14 October 1913 - 10 February 2001) was a prominent Vietnamese business man who, together with his wife Nguyen Thi Nguyet Nga, built and operated the Rex Hotel and Cinema in Ho Chi Minh City. After the Fall of Saigon, Ung Thi sought refuge in France where he lived until his death.
Ung Thi was born Nguyễn Phúc Ung Thi into the Nguyễn Dynasty, the last ruling monarchy of Vietnam. His grandfather was the renowned poet Tung Thien Vuong. His father, Hong Khang, founded the Lac Tinh Vien in Huế, classified as world heritage site by UNESCO.
In World War II, he voluntarily enlisted into the army and served alongside Duong Van Minh in Savannakhet, Laos. He gained his law degree and worked as administrator for the Compagnie des Chemin de Fer in Hanoi. He was subsequently appointed as chief aide to the French Resident Superieur in Hanoi.
In 1946, Ung Thi married Nguyen Thi Nguyet Nga, great-granddaughter of Hoang Cao Khai, Viceroy of Tonkin, and had seven children.
Rex Hotel and Cinema
Ung Thi and his family moved from Hanoi to Saigon in 1954, following the Geneva Convention. He built and operated the Dai Nam Cinema. In his daily commute, he passed in front of the Bainier Auto Center, in the heart of the city and was interested to acquire this prime location but it was not for sale.
One day in 1961, Ung Thi took his daughter to tea and learned that the Bainier property might be on sale. He purchased the lot and built the Rex Hotel and Cinema. The building was modern for its time and featured a large screen theater and the first escalator in Vietnam. It was the leading hotel and cinema in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, the hotel was rented to the United States Information Agency, where it became a center of activity for military leaders and international journalists. In 1972, Ung Thi renovated the property and added two mini theaters, a coffee shop, a shopping mall and dance hall.
In early 1975, Ung Thi's wife went to Europe to source for interior design supplies and could not return because of the advance of the Viet Cong. After the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, Ung Thi had to surrender under duress his properties to the Government. In 1976, Ung Thi joined his wife and children in France.