Dōnghé Theater 東和戲院 is an obscure ruin in the small historic town of Shuangxi 雙溪 in the mountains of eastern Xinbei (New Taipei) 新北. Despite its diminutive size and remote location the town has a history going back to the Qing dynasty era. During the mining boom of the early 20th century Shuangxi became prosperous enough to warrant the establishment of an outpost of cinema. When the town’s fortunes declined so did this theater—but nowadays anyone is welcome to wander in and take a look at what remains here at the confluence of Mǔdān Creek 牡丹溪 and the eponymous Shuang River 雙溪.
I haven’t had an much luck dating the establishment or abandonment of Donghe Theater as there doesn’t seem to be any authoritative information about it online. The only lead I have involves Taiwanese director Lín Fúdì 林福地 (commonly romanized as Fu Di Lin), who, according to several accounts1, briefly managed a cinema in Shuangxi prior to working on his first feature films in the early 1960s. In those days there were two theaters in town: the one featured in this post and another now-demolished theater by the post office. The few records I have found suggest that their names were Shuangxi Theater 雙溪戲院 and (if you’ll permit some license in translating that first character) Upper Shuangxi Theater 頂雙溪戲院, where Lin Fudi allegedly worked. Donghe Theater is almost certainly one of these two—and given that the post office is further upriver I surmise that Donghe Theater is the original Shuangxi Theater. From this we may surmise that this building dates back to at least the mid-1950s, though there’s a good chance it might be even older.
The old theater has obviously been cleaned up by the district government for tourists to enjoy in recent years. From what I gather this probably coincided with the promotion of Shuangxi 雙溪 as a low-carbon destination for tourists (take the train there, rent a bike or walk when you show up). Several of the Taiwanese blogs I consulted about this theater (for example, here, here, here, and here) seemed to follow this theme. A few of those posts mention an artistic installation in the old theater but I only saw a simple screen setup against one wall. The rest of the theater seemed more overgrown than what can be seen on those other blogs. Nowadays it is a curious mixture of “mosquito cinema” and the sort of place you might bring your relatives to see.
A small installation within the grounds of the old theater provide some background information about the red bricks used in its construction. Known in Chinese as TR磚, this is short for Taiwan Renga 台灣煉瓦, the Japanese colonial era company responsible for producing most of the high-quality bricks in Taiwan2. These iconic bricks can be found in many other historic ruins around the country including Qingyu Hall 慶餘堂 in nearby Keelung 基隆. This fact alone is not enough to date this theater to the pre-war period—but it is certainly suggestive of that possibility. If this theater were indeed from the Japanese colonial era it would also explain a change of names.
For more general information about tourism in Shuangxi I suggest perusing this excellent bicycle blog. Hopefully I will have a few more things to share from my few hours in this sleepy mountain town—but for now, here’s another theater to add to the collection.