Jiànxīn Theater 建新大戲院 is located in Yuánshùlín 員樹林, a suburban area on the western outskirts of Dàxī 大溪 in Táoyuán 桃園, Taiwan. Business records indicate an inception date of 1977, but not much is known about this theater apart from that. The last recorded transaction in 2000 sets an upper bound on when it was operating, but likely went out of business in the early 1990s, when most of the rest of Taiwan’s cinema industry collapsed. It now enjoys a second life as a parking garage for the nearby factories and residences.
Aside from business records, I found no other references to this obscure theater prior to my visit in January 2020. Mere months later, The Thief of Places published an insightful article about Yuanshulin, suggesting the establishment of the nearby Zhōngzhènglǐng Campus 中正嶺校區 of the National Defense University 國防大學 in 1968 explains the presence of a theater in this somewhat unusual spot, far from the old entertainment district in Daxi1. This hypothesis checks out; the thousands of soldiers stationed in the area would have yearned for some form of entertainment in their downtime, and while there probably would have been a cinema on campus, there almost certainly would have been some demand for alternatives to military programming2.
This theater is set back from the main road a ways, and you wouldn’t be likely to chance upon it if you didn’t already know it was there. A metal frame mounted on the front of the theater indicates that movie posters would have been displayed—but you’d have to know exactly where to look if you were just wandering by. Nowadays the interior of the theater is used for parking—and spaces are for rent, as noted by a red banner hanging beneath the awning out front.
Initially i wasn’t successful in gaining access to the old theater—nobody was around when I went to inquire at the factory office next door, and seeing as how it obviously wasn’t abandoned I wasn’t about to jump through the window. Just as I was leaving the metal shutters of the automated garage door began to clatter, and after waving my camera around and receiving a polite nod from a passing employee, I ducked inside for a quick look around.
The interior of the theater has been mostly stripped—and nothing remains of the former stage or screen. Similarly, there was no evidence of any ticket booth or snack bar; everything on the ground floor had been cleared to accommodate automobiles. Turning a corner, I climbed a set of stairs leading to what would have been a balcony level, and was delighted to find most of the projection room intact—albeit without any projectors.
Ultimately there’s nothing too special about this utilitarian countryside theater, but I’m always glad to add another site to my ever-growing collection of vintage Taiwanese cinemas. Although its heritage value might be low, this is the only remaining theater still standing in Daxi3, a district that has otherwise done quite well in preserving its many historic buildings.
- Local geography also plays a role. Tens of thousands of years ago the Dàhàn River 大漢溪 carved a canyon out of the Taoyuan Plateau 桃園台地 as it was captured by the Taipei Basin 臺北盆地 to the northeast. Daxi proper is perched on a plateau on the east side of this valley whereas Yuanshulin is located to the west. Although not far from each other by line of sight, coming down from the escarpment requires quite a detour, adding to travel times. ↩
- Military bases in Taiwan were usually built with large halls to accommodate speeches, ceremonies, and other events. These halls, typically named Zhōngzhèng Hall 中正堂 to memorialize former president Chiang Kai-shek, were also used to screen films, albeit of a somewhat more patriotic nature than might be found at privately-owned cinemas. I’m not entirely sure what sort of films were shown at Jianxin Theater but there’s a good chance they specialized in whatever wasn’t being screened on campus. ↩
- Since I might not have another opportunity to itemize the former movie theaters of Daxi, here’s what I’ve uncovered: Daxi Theater 大溪戲院, possibly renamed Tiānxiáng Theater 天祥戲院 as some point (or that might have been another theater entirely), both on Zhōngyāng Road 中央路; Fúrén Theater 福仁戲院, named after a famous local temple on Hépíng Road 和平路 (but not necessarily located there); Guójì Theater 國際戲院 on Kāngzhuāng Road 康莊路, demolished around 2008; and finally Zhōngxìng Theater 中興戲院, another theater located next to a military base far from the center of town. ↩