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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection

Datong Theater 大同戲院

Outside of Taitung City’s historic Datong Theater.

In June 2015 I undertook a bicycle trip from Tainan 台南 to Taitung City 台東市, where I spent an extra day wandering around to get more of a feel for Taiwan’s remote southeastern capital. Mere minutes after leaving my hotel, immediately after scoping out the historic Taitung Chinese Association 台東中華會館, I noticed the stark outline of an abandoned building at the end of a short laneway leading off of Zhōngzhèng Road 中正路. After taking a closer look I realized it was yet another abandoned movie theater, of which there are many scattered all around Taiwan 台灣.

Inside the ticket booth after hopping the fence. Looks like people just closed the shutters and walked off the job.

Dàtóng Theater 大同戲院, as it was known, opened in the late 1950s, back when films had to be flown from Taipei 台北 to Hualien and then shipped down to Taitung by rail. Film was among the main forms of mass entertainment in those days and Taitung County, despite its small population of approximately 250,0001, was reputedly home to 36 theaters at its peak in the 1970s. With the advent of home video and modern cineplexes in the 1980s most of these old school theaters went out of business, one by one, until only Datong Theater remained, the very last of its kind.

Up the stairs to the projection room. Damage from the fire is obvious here.
The gutted remains of the projection room at Datong Theater.

Disaster struck in 2009 when an early morning blaze broke out and consumed much of the theater, putting an end to Datong’s cinematic reign. Many of the abandoned buildings I explore were purified by fire at one point or another, a common fate for struggling businesses in Taiwan 台灣. My inner cynic wonders how many of these fires are accidental and how many were intentionally set to collect insurance money and save face.

Searching for artifacts in the projection room of an abandoned theater in Taitung City.
Film stock and supplies.
Burnt yellow phone.
Dating the theater fire to 2009.
God of the abandoned cinema.
Datong Theater usher uniform.
Film screening at the abandoned theater.

Datong Theater changed with the times. What was once one big cinema was eventually sliced up into six smaller theaters to accommodate a changing market. Datong also went downmarket as a second-run theater with double billing (one ticket buys two showings). But even with these measures Datong was barely holding on, much like the Gemini Theater 雙子星戲院 of Douliumen 斗六門大樓, previously profiled on this blog.

The old theater is completely exposed to the elements.
Down from the projection room.
A scorched aesthetic.
On the balcony just outside the projection room.
Overlooking the ruins of Datong Theater.
At the outer edge of the second floor balcony at Datong Theater.

Six years have passed and not much remains of Datong Theater apart from scorch marks on the empty concrete shell. The interior of the building is now exposed to the elements and has become overgrown, though not as much as some other abandoned theaters I have visited. It is more a prairie than a forest inside—though the present of a number of what I think are papaya trees belies the tropical location. Wouldn’t it be sweet to taste the fruit grown in the wreckage of a historic cinema? Out of the ashes new life appears

Looking back from where the screen once was. There’s not much left of the original equipment here.
Another look at what remains of Datong Theater.
A parting glance at Datong Theater from the small alleyway it fronts onto.

Stumbling upon Datong Theater opened up a new world for me. Now I am much more conscious of how easy it is to find abandoned cinemas in just about any settlement of any size in Taiwan 台灣. Since then I have identified or explored a dozen more in my travels. Taken together, these cast-off husks trace the rise and fall of the Taiwanese film industry.

If you’re curious about what else I found that same day in Taitung City 台東市 check out my post about the Fuyou Building 富有大樓. High-resolution photos from this exploration can also be found on Flickr.


  1. Taitung’s population has actually decreased since the 1960s from what I know. I’ve had some trouble finding reliable statistics but from what I gather the population has dropped from a high of about 290,000 to 225,000 residents today, largely a consequence of rural flight. This could mean that the city itself has actually grown even as the countryside emptied out. 

1 Comment

  1. These abandoned buildings in Taiwan always amaze me. There is an abandoned hotel/ bar in Chiayi county. It is one of the creepiest experiences I remember:)

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