Bare concrete in Xinming Theater

Zhongli Xinming Theater 中壢新明戲院

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) in Taitung City 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 Zhongli 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.

Exterior shot of Xinming Theater 新明戲院
An abandoned movie theater in the heart of Zhongli’s old market streets.
A closer look at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Signs and symbols on the corner of the abandoned Xinming Theater.
A variation on Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Yet another variation on the name of the theater, this time in tile.

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.

The Former Entrance to Xinmin Theater in Zhongli
An alternate name over the original entrance at street level, possibly a result of a change of ownership in the theater’s dying days.
The secret entrance to Xinming Theater 新明戲院
The not-so-secret entrance to the theater is unblocked and unguarded. Nobody in the nearby shops seemed to mind me wandering up there on a number of occasions.
Playing some hoops in the abandoned theater
This gutted room would have once held the ticket booth, snack bar, and washrooms. Now it is home to a pile of junk and a rusty old basketball hoop…
Back down to the second level at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
The shops downstairs have also installed several water towers in the lobby of the abandoned theater. Easier than climbing up to the rooftop I suppose. You can also notice what appears to be fire damage; perhaps this was the theater’s ultimate fate…

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.

Toward the forgotten screen
The view from the back of the abandoned theater. The screen is no longer present, nor are there any artifacts around that would suggest this was one a movie theater.
Former seats at the Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Looking back toward the projection room, which is empty and shrouded in darkness.

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.

Bare concrete in Xinming Theater
Bare concrete terraces is all that remains of the seating in the old theater.
Directions at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
This way or that.
Remnants of the old washroom at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Broken washroom behind the screen.
Through a broken rooftop at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Looking down on broken stalls.

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?

Highest floor at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
The top floor is an empty wasteland.
Top level at Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Possibly the remains of a skating rink.
24 hour beef noodle shop behind Xinming Theater 新明戲院
Yongchuan Beef Noodle still occupies the bottom corner of the building.

Finally, I should mention that the best 24-hour restaurant in Zhongli 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!

  1. Zhongli 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 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)! 
  2. 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. 

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