Guóxìng Theater (國興戲院) was the very last standalone movie theater operating in Miaoli, Taiwan. After 70 years in the cinema business it closed for renovations in the final days of 2019, never to reopen. Apparently the intention was to return sometime after the Lunar New Year break in early 2020, but then the pandemic struck. Three years later it is probably safe to assume it’ll never show another film, marking an end to an era of independent cinema in Miaoli.

Miaoli Guoxing Theater (苗栗國興戲院)
The last vintage theater in Miaoli in the long shadows of late afternoon.

Originally established as Guójì Theater (國際戲院, literally “International Theater”) around 19501, it faced strong competition from the eponymous Miaoli Theater in the bustling years of the Taiwan Economic Miracle. The popularization of public television, home video, and the modern cineplex eroded patronage into the 1990s, but Guoji Theater (as it was still known) persevered into the new century. The owner bought out the competition in the early 2000s2, shutting them all down not long thereafter, making Guoxing the only theater still screening films in the city. With the closure of Dōngshēng Theater (東聲戲院) in nearby Toufen in 20183, Guoxing also became the last in the county for a brief span of time.

Entrance to Guoxing Theater (國興戲院口)
A colorful yet mutilated signboard spans the entrance to Guoxing Theater, which is located down a small laneway.

I was fortunate to visit Guoxing Theater in October 2019, mere months before its final screening. I swung by on three occasion to capture the photos seen in this post, and had a brief chat with someone who might have been the manager (or even new owner). I was informed this theater was initially a rice mill (hence the peculiar dimensions of the theater, which is shaped somewhat like a trapezoid), and later a stage for Hakka opera (客家大戲) before it was converted into a full-time cinema. The name was altered sometime in the 2000s, partly due to a change in ownership4, but also to improve its fortunes5. If you look closely at most of the photos in this report you’ll notice the second character on the facade has a slightly different sheen, and evidence of this renaming is obvious on the signboard over the alleyway leading to the theater.

Guoxing Theater Movie Posters
Now playing at Guoxing Theater.
Guoxing Theater Rules and Regulations, 1994
Rules and regulations promulgated in 1994.
After Dark at Guoxing Theater
After dark at Guoxing Theater.
Guoxing Theater Ticket Booth
Vintage style emanates from the ticket booth just inside the entrance to Guoxing Theater.
Guoxing Theater Lobby
Inside the lobby at Guoxing Theater.

Posters for several movies were featured prominently in and around Guoxing Theater: Detention (返校, a Taiwanese indie horror film and breakaway box office hit), Weathering With You (天気の子), It Chapter Two, and One Piece: Stampede among them. I regret not staying to watch a film, but I had no idea it would be my only chance.

Farewell to Guoxing Theater
Farewell to Guoxing Theater, the last vintage cinema in Miaoli.

Fast forward to 2023, and several of these posters remain entombed in the glass display cases on either side of the entrance, now faded to a wispy blue with exposure to the harsh subtropical sun. News reports of the closure6 featured a fateful sign displayed out front reading “interior renovations” (整修內部) and “temporary suspension of business” (暫停營業), the very same wording featured in the closing minutes of Tsai Ming-liang’s lyrical tribute to the dying days of cinema, Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

Guoxing Theater Advertisements in Gongguan
Guoxing Theater advertising at the site of a long-vanished cinema in nearby Gongguan.

I’ll leave you with one more observation: whoever managed Guoxing Theater made extensive use of physical advertising around town7, especially at the sites of former cinemas. Miaoli Theater, now a veterinarian clinic and pet supplies shop, has an advertising board from Guoji Theater dating back to the early 2000s, and it’s probably safe to assume it was once displayed out front. I also found advertising for Guoxing Theater immediately opposite the former site of Āndū Theater (安都戲院), which was probably destroyed decades ago8, in the nearby town of Gongguan. There’s something fascinating about this ongoing association with the physical locality of now-vanished theaters and the potential for mass entertainment. No matter if you had just arisen from a 20 year slumber in small town Miaoli, you’d still have known where to catch a movie.

  1. Public records suggest this theater was registered in 1969, but this Hakka News segment mentions the theater has 70 years of history. As with Miaoli Theater, few authoritative records of this cinema are readily found online, so an exact date of establishment may remain elusive. 
  2. Business records for the original Guoji Theater (1969–2011) identify the original owner as Zhāng Shūpéng (張書鵬). Interestingly, other records indicate Mr. Zhang also owned Xinming Theater (新明戲院, 1980–1997) in Zhongli, already profiled on this site. Since he allegedly bought (and closed) Miaoli Theater and First Theater (第一戲院), also in Miaoli City, it would seem he was something of a theater tycoon. My guess is that he probably owned several other theaters at different points in time. Finally, Mr. Zhang also may have dipped his toes into movie production in the early 1980s, if he’s the same individual listed here on the Hong Kong Movie Database
  3. The Reporter has an excellent feature about the closing of Dongsheng Theater (in Chinese). 
  4. More recent business records, starting in 2010, list the owner as Zhāng Jiālún (張嘉倫), possibly a relative of the original owner. Then again, Zhang is a very common family name in Taiwan. 
  5. Xing is a character with many positive meanings: thriving, flourishing, prospering, and so on. 
  6. Housefun published a short article about the closure, and the aforementioned Hakka News segment was also prompted by the announcement. If they are ever to reopen we’ll know through the theater’s official Facebook page
  7. Here’s a blog post from the mid-2010s showing the general state of the theater at that time. The author notes that advertising for Guoxing Theater can be seen all around town. 
  8. Very little information exists to substantiate anything about Andu Theater except for these skeletal business records. Gongguan, only around 6 kilometers from Miaoli City, was also home to Yǒnglè Theater 永樂戲院 in the 1960s. 

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