Shèzi 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.
I learned of this theater through Instagram of all places; someone I follow shared a photo from outside the ticket booth, immediately arousing my curiosity. Since it was given such a simple and descriptive name it wasn’t difficult to figure out its location: somewhere in the bowels of the eponymous Shezi Market 社子市場. Still, I am surprised I hadn’t heard of this particular theater—there aren’t many vintage cinemas left within Taipei city limits! Mixed use commercial and residential complex with theaters hidden away from the street were once fairly common in Taiwan, especially in the densely populated Taipei Basin 臺北盆地, but few remain1.
Abandoned and mostly forgotten for nearly two decades, the theater was slated for destruction in 2015, arousing some interest from the media in the form of this television news segment. Additional insight can be derived from this article, which contains two shots of the interior prior to renovation, and this gallery of photos (and accompanying text) on Facebook. Somewhat surprisingly, the theater is still standing in 2017, although the interior has been completely gutted. I wasn’t able to see much through the front gate but it appears as if it will be used for scooter parking.
Some additional confirmation of the timeline can be gleaned from the glass casing to the left of the entrance. Here you will still find a poster for Lover of the Last Empress 慈禧秘密生活, a salacious Hong Kong biopic of the Empress Dowager Cixi released in 1995 (see IMDb for more info). Finally, this general history of Shezi provides some context that may be of interest.
- The most famous of these is Fúhé Theater 福和大戲院, the subject of a future post. Apart from that, both the Guāngmíng Theater 光明戲院 and Miramar Theater 美麗華戲院 are still standing, but neither one is accessible last time I visited. ↩