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.

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.

Beigang Theater 北港劇場

A Closer Look at Beigang Theater

Beigang Theater 北港劇場 in Beigang 北港, Yunlin 雲林, is among the finest and most well-preserved of Taiwan’s remaining Japanese colonial era theaters. Built in 1937 with investment from a local businessman by the name of Tsai Yu-Hu 蔡裕斛 (whose old house is also worth a look), this three storey theater featured a revolving stage, seating for 800 guests, and simple western-style facade with a trace of the Baroque Revival architecture popular at the time. It was not only a cinema—Taiwanese opera, glove puppet shows, musical concerts, wedding banquets, and other events were also held inside. The theater went out of business in 1988 and was converted for use as a department store and restaurant for some time thereafter. Nowadays it is apparently still in use as a pool hall and, inexplicably, a kidney dialysis center, but I saw no evidence of this when I visited in the summer of 2017.

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.

Hsin Kang Theater 新港戲院

Hsin Kang Theater Exterior View

Hsin Kang Theater 新港戲院 is located in the small town of Xingang 新港, Chiayi 嘉義, not far from the famous Fengtian Temple 奉天宮. Multiple sources agree it went out of business in 1988—a victim of shifting consumer preferences and demographic changes in small town Taiwan—but the actual age of the building is somewhat uncertain. This academic reference suggests it was founded in 1929, in the midst of the Japanese colonial era, but the theater was almost certainly renovated or completely rebuilt in the post-war period.

Tainan Xinjianguo Theater 台南新建國戲院

Oblique View of Xinjianguo Theater

One of the last of the many vintage theaters of Tainan 台南 seems to have finally closed its doors. Founded in 1964, the notorious Xinjianguo Theater 新建國戲院 was originally named for its location on Jianguo Road 建國路, which was later renamed Minquan Road 民權路. It is not uncommon for old theaters in Taiwan to resort to showing pornography in the twilight of their decline but this particular theater appears to have specialized in more carnal forms of entertainment for much of its history. Perhaps this is why this theater remained in business until very recently—long after most of the nation’s hundreds of other standalone theaters shut down in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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.

Dong’an Theater 東安戲院

An oblong look at Dong’an Theater

Recently I added yet another theater to my growing catalogue of old school cinemas in Taiwan: the derelict Dong’an Grand Theater 東安大戲院 in East Tainan. This theater opened in 1969 and closed its doors not long after the turn of the millennium, another victim of changing consumer habits. I wasn’t able to find a way inside this theater so this post only features a handful of exterior shots and some links I chanced upon after conducting preliminary research.