Recently I visited Xinpu 新埔, a small Hakka town in the hills of Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan, alongside fellow photographer and blogger Josh Ellis. I was curious to confirm reports of a historic theater along the former Entertainment Street 娛樂街 but the location in my notes was occupied by a construction site. Forging on, we continued down the road and were soon rewarded by the sight of something that I wasn’t expecting: Xīnxīng Theater 新興戲院. In hindsight it wouldn’t be an “entertainment street” without more than one cinema, would it?
Elucidating the history of Xinxing Theater1 pushes the limits of my present research abilities. Public records indicate it was registered in a business in 1956 and closed at the turn of the millennium. Previously I made some inferences from what information is available about Xinpu Theater 新埔戲院, the original target of this expedition. The now-vanished building that housed Xinpu Theater was formerly a Japanese colonial era pineapple canning plant. The entire fruit-canning industry underwent severe disruption during World War II due to a shortage of metal. After the war the building was converted into a modest movie theater as film became an incredibly popular form of mass entertainment in Taiwan, particularly during the boom times of the Taiwan Miracle.
Now let’s fast-forward half a century. Taiwan’s cinema industry fell into deep decline around the turn of the millennium. Hundreds of theaters all around the nation closed down and were abandoned to the elements, redeveloped, or torn down. Xinpu’s handful of old theaters did not escape these fates. The eponymous Xinpu Theater had been abandoned for quite some time before its eventual demolition in late 2014 to make way for a new high-rise development. Xinxing Theater—the one pictured in this post—was, for a time, used as a karaoke bar and restaurant by the name of Paramount BBQ 百樂門碳烤2. Judging from Google Street View records this too was abandoned by around 2012 and nowadays the building is empty and open to occasional explorers such as Josh and I… as long as you don’t mind the incessant barking of the dog chained up on the ground floor, that is.
In the absence of more credible and authoritative information I had to read between the lines in attempting to sketch out a possible history for Xinxing Theater. The fact that the theater down the street bore the name of the town suggests that it was first to open—which puts an upper limit on the age of Xinxing Theater as a business. This leads into the second and much more interesting question: was this building designed to house a theater or was it, like Xinpu Theater, also some kind of warehouse or factory? From what file footage I’ve been able to rustle up there are striking similarities in the facades of both buildings—but Xinxing Theater is more than double the size and has something like a ticket booth out front, an important feature absent from Xinpu Theater. With a dedicated projection room and a second-floor balcony it seems likely that Xinxing Theater was purpose-built to entertain the masses, possibly even as a direct result of the burgeoning popularity of the smaller Xinpu Theater. Inasmuch as it looks like it might be a Japanese colonial era structure my guess is that Xinxing Theater was built in the late 1950s when the business was originally registered.
Since this theater has been derelict for more than a decade there isn’t much left that isn’t bolted down. One of the only remaining artifacts that hints at the building’s former function is a vintage movie poster near the back of the theater. Profiles In Pleasure (Qúnyīngluànwǔ 群鶯亂舞) was released in 1988 during the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. I highly encourage you to take a few moments and watch clips here and here to see this poster come alive!
Somewhat surprisingly I haven’t been able to scare up much of interest from the Chinese language blogosphere about this theater. It is briefly mentioned in several food and culture posts about Xinpu in general, for example here, here, here, and here, but nobody seems to have paid close attention to this building in particular. I feel somewhat chagrined knowing that a quick conversation with some local people or the town historian would likely clear up many of the questions that have been raised in this post—but this is all I have for now. Another day of exploration, another mystery…
- There is more than one Xinxing Theater in Taiwan—with the one in Dàlín 大林, Chiayi 嘉義, coming up first in most searches—but qualifying the name of the theater with its location would make this post unnecessarily confusing. If I write about another Xinxing Theater I might have to return and update this note however… ↩
- I wonder if the name is an ironic nod toward Paramount Pictures, the iconic American film studio, or the glamorous Paramount Ballroom 百樂門大舞廳 in Shànghǎi 上海? ↩