Xīluó 西螺 is justifiably famous for its eponymous Japanese colonial era theater, located close to the architectural wonders of Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街, but this small town on the south bank of the sluggish Zhuóshuǐ River 濁水溪 was once home to two more theaters. Almost no mention of these other theaters can be found except in this news report about a local painter—but while browsing around satellite view on Google Maps I managed to locate Yīshēng Theater 一生戲院 (literally “Lifetime Theater”).
Identifying Yisheng Theater has not been straight-forward. Most of the characters on the facade are missing, introducing considerable ambiguity. A closer examination of the metal brackets that once secured the mystery characters was not conclusive. Both sources cited above cite three theaters in town: the famous Xiluo Theater and two lesser known theaters, Yuǎndōng Theater 遠東戲院 (“Far East Theater”) and Yisheng. Initially I figured this must be Yuandong Theater, for the pattern of corrosion and placement of the metal brackets suggest a full-sized character in the first position, but I was wrong. At an exhibition of the photography of Lee Kai-Ming 李開明 at Huashan Creative Park in November 2017 I noticed he had identified a completely different building as Yuandong Theater. By a process of elimination—assuming there were indeed only three theaters in town—this must be the Yisheng Theater. I later confirmed this with a local resident.
Without any business records to consult I am left guessing about when this theater was built and later abandoned. I’d guess this theater dates back to the 1960s or 1970s and probably went out of business in the 1990s like many other standalone theaters in central Taiwan. Evidently it was converted for use as a gambling den or seedy karaoke bar at some point, for the interior has been renovated to remove all traces of the projection room, ticket booth, and other fixtures of movie theater design. I wandered around inside for a little while but there was nothing to see—it is merely a dark and hollow shell, not at all interesting. Well, they can’t all be cool, but this one is on the rental market. Anyone fancy a use for this ugly old theater in Xiluo?
One last note: while the theater was open and accessible on my first visit it was closed the second time I stopped by to confirm the name.