Dalin Xinxing Theater 大林新興戲院

Asymmetric Cinematic Architecture

What remains of Xinxing Theater 新興戲院 can be found just east of the train station in Dalin 大林, a modest town of approximately 30,000 just north of Chiayi City 嘉義市 in Taiwan. Despite its relatively small size Dalin once supported five movie theaters, providing entertainment for sugar factory workers and the many soldiers stationed at nearby military bases. Xinxing Theater (not to be confused with the one in Xinpu) originally opened as Renshan Theater 仁山戲院 in 1954 and remained in business until 1992. Eventually the theater was renovated and subdivided into a billiards hall and KTV (also known as a karaoke box) before it was finally abandoned sometime around 2013. Recently there was talk of buying the property and transforming it into a creative market but its ultimate fate remained unknown until it was finally demolished in 2019.

Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠

Open Air Factory in Yuanlin

The corpses of a thousand factories lay strewn across the plains of central and south Taiwan, stark reminders of an extraordinary period of economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century. Those located in more rural areas are readily forgotten and may remain derelict for years to come—but the more prosperous districts are busily excising these unsightly engines of economic growth from their urban landscapes. Progress is inconsistent, however, and it isn’t at all unusual to chance upon the hulking ruins of inner city factories that have yet to disappear. One such factory is the Yicheng Cannery 義成罐頭工廠, an impressive complex hemmed in on all sides by residences in a network of winding alleyways not far from the train station in Yuanlin 員林, the second-largest city in Changhua 彰化. No doubt this ugly eyesore will be demolished sometime in the near future—but in the meantime it has become a shadow world for local youth and curious outsiders such as myself.

Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站

Abandoned Gas Station in Linnei

Nanyun Gas Station 南雲加油站 is one of hundreds of abandoned gas stations found all around Taiwan. Located on a section of Provincial Highway 3 in Yunlin 雲林 known as Linshan Highway 林山公路 (for it connects Linnei 林內 with Zhushan 竹山 in neighboring Nantou 南投), it was affiliated with CPC Corporation 台灣中油 (中文), a state-owned enterprise that controls or supplies 80% of gas stations in the nation, and was probably abandoned more than a decade ago.

Shezi Theater 社子大戲院

Shezi Grand Theater 社子大戲院

Shezi Theater 社子大戲院 was founded in 1965 as the first open-air theater in Taipei 台北. Located in southwestern Shilin, it was a fairly informal venue from the sounds of it: an empty lot surrounded by bamboo fencing with films projected on a single screen for up to 500 people every night, stars wheeling overhead. Within three years of opening the owners reinvested some of their profits in filling out the space, adding a balcony level and some rudimentary shelter from the elements. Eventually the theater moved into a more permanent building on the same site, perhaps as late as 1976, when it first appears in business records. The rise of home video in the 1980s gravely impacted the theater business, leading the owners to divide the cinema into two halls, but there was no way to survive the new economy. Shezi Theater closed in 1996, another victim of changing consumer habits in Taiwan.

Shifen Luxing Theater 十分陸興戲院

Longxing Theater 隆興戲院

Luxing Theater 陸興戲院 was one of the very first abandoned buildings I explored in Taiwan after arriving back in 2013. I had only been in Taipei 台北 for about a week when I took a day trip out to Pingxi 平溪, a popular tourist destination in New Taipei 新北, and disembarked from the train at Shifen Station 十分車站 on a whim. Everyone else on the train had the same idea—which meant the narrow street leading east to Shifen Waterfall 十分大瀑布, reputedly one of finest in the Greater Taipei Area and my intended destination, was immediately overwhelmed with pedestrian traffic.

Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校

Yixin Vocational School 益新工商職業學校

Yixin Vocational High School 益新工商職業學校 is a relatively obscure but not entirely unknown ruin in central Taiwan. Located along the main road running through Linnei 林內, Yunlin 雲林, it seems to have been abandoned in the aftermath of the devastating 921 Earthquake, nearly two decades ago. Many schools were destroyed in the quake and scores more were condemned (most famously an entire university campus in Dongshi) but whether this particular school suffered the same fate isn’t certain.

Dongping Tobacco Barn 東平菸樓

Sunset Over a Tobacco Barn in Taiping District

Only traces remain of the tobacco cultivation and manufacturing industry in Taichung 台中, Taiwan. For the better part of a century tobacco was cultivated across wide swathes of the Taichung Basin 台中盆地, cured on location, sold at regional marketplaces, and shipped to factories for further processing into cigarettes and other tobacco products. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 marked the end of domestic tobacco production but the industry was already in steep decline, a consequence of globalization and the end of the government monopoly system in preceding decades. Several buildings related to Taichung’s tobacco industry have earned heritage status in recent years—but this decaying tobacco barn hidden down an laneway in Taiping 太平, a suburban district on the eastern side of the burgeoning metropolis, is not among them.

Xiluo Huasheng Theater 西螺華聲戲院

Xiluo’s Abandoned Yisheng Theater

Xiluo 西螺 is justifiably famous for Xiluo Theater, the Japanese colonial era theater located close to the architectural wonders of Yanping Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuoshui River 濁水溪 was once home to two additional theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate Huasheng Theater 華聲戲院 (also known as Yisheng Theater 一生戲院).

Xinying Chenggong Theater 新營成功戲院

An Old Projector at Chenggong Theater

Despite its relative obscurity Xinying 新營 is the largest settlement along the railway line between metropolitan Tainan City 台南市 and Chiayi City 嘉義市. It is the former capital of Tainan County prior to amalgamation in 2010 and remains the second administrative seat of Tainan 台南 alongside Anping 安平. Located on the broad and fertile Chianan Plain 嘉南平原, it was also an important transportation hub for the sugar industry, and what remains of the Japanese colonial era sugar factory can still be found on the south side of town. These facts—the size of the town, its former importance, and the presence of a sugar factory—suggest that Xinying was almost certainly home to several standalone movie theaters in its heyday. After doing some research online I established that this was indeed the case—and in February 2017 I swung through to investigate rumours of several old theaters. One of these turned out to be a rather unusual example of a ruined KMT authoritarian era cinema by the name of Chenggong Theater 成功戲院.

Lize Theater 利澤戲院

Lize Theater From the Streets

The obscure Lize Theater 利澤戲院 is located in the village of Lizejian 利澤簡 in Wujie 五結, a rural township just east of Luodong 羅東 in Yilan 宜蘭, Taiwan. Built in 1964, it once served as a cinema and playhouse, hosting a variety of films and live theater performances for the local populace before slipping into decline in the 1980s, a little earlier than most other theaters I’ve visited around the nation. Afterwards the theater was converted for use as a clothing factory but this also went out of business. Nowadays the building is more disused than abandoned, as descendants of the original owner are still making use of the structure for storage and other purposes. In a stroke of good luck I happened to visit while the door was open—and after communicating my interest in the history of old theaters in Taiwan I was invited in for a brief chat and look around. Each theater has its own story to tell—but in this case I was particularly interested in learning why a theater was built in such a small and seemingly unimportant village.