In the last year or so I have found and explored numerous abandoned movie theaters in Taiwan. It all started when I stumbled upon Datong Theater 大同戲院 down in Taitung City 台東市 last June. Since then I have learned much more about the Taiwanese cinema industry: how many theaters are likely to be found in a city of a given size, where they are likely to be found, when they were likely to have been abandoned, and so on. Not long after moving to Zhōnglì 中壢 a few months ago I put this growing awareness to the test by cycling around town one morning, finding several theaters new to me, all within close proximity to one another. One of these, Xīnmíng Theater 新明戲院, is the subject of this post. Public records indicate the business was registered around 1980 and lapsed in 1997, though it almost certainly closed sometime before then.
One of the more interesting features of Xinming Theater is the many signs that can be found all around the building: the circular glyph on the corner of the building (a stylized version of Xinming); the salmon-coloured characters below; the faint outline of an LED sign hanging over the street; a black tile rendition around the side; broken plastic signs mounted in a bracket just below the tile; and a signboard above the original entrance, curiously displaying the name Xinmin Theater 新民大戲院, possibly a consequence of a change in ownership around 1989.
Accessing this theater is a snap, unlike most of the others I found in Zhongli1. Most of the street-facing shops on the ground floor are still in business, which is fairly common for abandoned commercial buildings in Taiwan (see, for instance, the Qiaoyou Building, the Qianyue Building, or the Fuyou Building, all of which are still home to active businesses at street level). This is both a blessing and a curse, for the place has been stripped clean—and much of the interior has been converted into storage for the shops below.
Inside the theater itself nothing remains: no projectors, film cases, seats, a screen, tickets, or much of anything else to identify this as a place where thousands once reclined in darkness, popcorn and other snacks in hand, to transport themselves into the many worlds of the imagination. Only the terraced concrete and elevated stage provide clues as to the former use of this neglected space.
Apart from the main theater there isn’t too much else to see aside from broken washroom stalls2 and an empty chamber on the top floor. I wasn’t able to find out much about whatever occupied this floor on the Chinese language internet—perhaps because it isn’t a particularly interesting ruin—but I noticed a passing reference to a skating arena in the area. Might this have been it?
Finally, I should mention that the best 24-hour restaurant in Zhōnglì 中壢 can be found at the base of the old theater. Yǒngchuān Beef Noodles 永川牛肉麵 offers an expansive selection of delicious soup and dumpling dishes to be enjoyed below the crumbling ruins of Xinming Theater. Only in Taiwan!
- Zhōnglì 中壢 was once home to more than a dozen movie theaters prior to the advent of home video. I have already posted something about the building that once housed Cáishén Theater 財神戲院 and the amazing Dàdōng Theater 大東戲院. For anyone curious to make their own contribution to the literature here are a few more theaters to look into: 裕國戲院, 銀宮戲院, 國際戲院, 遠東戲院, 金府戲院, 賓賓戲院, 親親來來戲院 (this last one being another that I wasn’t able to access). Interestingly, one of Zhongli’s old theaters is still in business—for more about that check out my write-up about Zhongyuan Theater 中源大戲院! ↩
- The posters in the bathroom suggest the theater was showing more than just films in its twilight phase. For more about cabaret culture in Taiwan browser over to my post about Guobin Commercial Building, also in Zhongli. ↩