Xinxing Theater 新興戲院

Outside an abandoned movie theater in the small town of Xinpu.

Recently I visited Xinpu 新埔, a small Hakka town in the hills of Hsinchu 新竹, Taiwan, alongside fellow photographer and blogger Josh Ellis. I was curious to confirm reports of a historic theater along the former Entertainment Street 娛樂街 but the location in my notes was occupied by a construction site. Forging on, we continued down the road and were soon rewarded by the sight of something that I wasn’t expecting: Xīnxīng Theater 新興戲院. In hindsight it wouldn’t be an “entertainment street” without more than one cinema, would it?

An oblique shot of the facade. The hexagonal windows opening onto the projection room are rather distinct.
My first look inside Xinxing Theater from the balcony level.

Elucidating the history of Xinxing Theater1 pushes the limits of my present research abilities. Public records indicate it was registered in a business in 1956 and closed at the turn of the millennium. Previously I made some inferences from what information is available about Xinpu Theater 新埔戲院, the original target of this expedition. The now-vanished building that housed Xinpu Theater was formerly a Japanese colonial era pineapple canning plant. The entire fruit-canning industry underwent severe disruption during World War II due to a shortage of metal. After the war the building was converted into a modest movie theater as film became an incredibly popular form of mass entertainment in Taiwan, particularly during the boom times of the Taiwan Miracle.

The broken concrete at the far end of the theater suggests there was once a stage.
All seating was torn out long ago but there’s no obscuring the purpose of these risers nor the holes on the wall for the projectors.

Now let’s fast-forward half a century. Taiwan’s cinema industry fell into deep decline around the turn of the millennium. Hundreds of theaters all around the nation closed down and were abandoned to the elements, redeveloped, or torn down. Xinpu’s handful of old theaters did not escape these fates. The eponymous Xinpu Theater had been abandoned for quite some time before its eventual demolition in late 2014 to make way for a new high-rise development. Xinxing Theater—the one pictured in this post—was, for a time, used as a karaoke bar and restaurant by the name of Paramount BBQ 百樂門碳烤2. Judging from Google Street View records this too was abandoned by around 2012 and nowadays the building is empty and open to occasional explorers such as Josh and I… as long as you don’t mind the incessant barking of the dog chained up on the ground floor, that is.

Descending by the only stairway inside the building.
A peek inside the tiny front office.
One of the Chinese characters in the word for “theater”.
Down at ground level. The size of the hall is rather impressive.

In the absence of more credible and authoritative information I had to read between the lines in attempting to sketch out a possible history for Xinxing Theater. The fact that the theater down the street bore the name of the town suggests that it was first to open—which puts an upper limit on the age of Xinxing Theater as a business. This leads into the second and much more interesting question: was this building designed to house a theater or was it, like Xinpu Theater, also some kind of warehouse or factory? From what file footage I’ve been able to rustle up there are striking similarities in the facades of both buildings—but Xinxing Theater is more than double the size and has something like a ticket booth out front, an important feature absent from Xinpu Theater. With a dedicated projection room and a second-floor balcony it seems likely that Xinxing Theater was purpose-built to entertain the masses, possibly even as a direct result of the burgeoning popularity of the smaller Xinpu Theater. Inasmuch as it looks like it might be a Japanese colonial era structure my guess is that Xinxing Theater was built in the late 1950s when the business was originally registered.

A closer look at the former screen. Not much remains to indicate what was once here.
The writing on the wall.
A poster for a film from Hong Kong, Profiles In Pleasure, released in 1988.

Since this theater has been derelict for more than a decade there isn’t much left that isn’t bolted down. One of the only remaining artifacts that hints at the building’s former function is a vintage movie poster near the back of the theater. Profiles In Pleasure (Qúnyīngluànwǔ 群鶯亂舞) was released in 1988 during the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. I highly encourage you to take a few moments and watch clips here and here to see this poster come alive!

Peering up at the wooden ceiling of the theater. I haven’t seen any theaters like this before—but I’ve seen more than a few without any roofing. Now I wonder if those might have been held aloft by wooden beams like this one.
Xinxing Theater from the far side of the hall. From here it is easy to appreciate the simple layout and construction style of the theater.
Ornamental flourishes on the stairway. It is only a small thing but it really adds something to the overall design.
Creeping back up to the balcony level.
A diamond motif lines the balcony. This same shape is commonly seen on old homes in Taiwan.
Another look at the bare balcony. Notice the door to the projection room has been nailed shut.
The impenetrable projection room. I don’t imagine there’s anything valuable left inside but I’m certainly curious about what secrets it might contain.
One last look across the yawning gulf of the illustrious Xinxing Theater.
For context: a sidelong exterior shot of the theater from the street. The length of the building has a far more functional appearance than the facade.

Somewhat surprisingly I haven’t been able to scare up much of interest from the Chinese language blogosphere about this theater. It is briefly mentioned in several food and culture posts about Xinpu in general, for example here, here, here, and here, but nobody seems to have paid close attention to this building in particular. I feel somewhat chagrined knowing that a quick conversation with some local people or the town historian would likely clear up many of the questions that have been raised in this post—but this is all I have for now. Another day of exploration, another mystery…

  1. There is more than one Xinxing Theater in Taiwan—with the one in Dalin, Chiayi 嘉義, coming up first in most searches—but qualifying the name of the theater with its location would make this post unnecessarily confusing. If I write about another Xinxing Theater I might have to return and update this note however… 
  2. I wonder if the name is an ironic nod toward Paramount Pictures, the iconic American film studio, or the glamorous Paramount Ballroom 百樂門大舞廳 in Shànghǎi 上海

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  1. Your exceptional pictures make it so I was right there with you two fine lads. Although, it would be nice to actually have joined you two physically on such a fine expedition. Love your work, man. Keep Synapticating!

  2. I got curious about this building and did some research, and accidentally came across this Taiwanese business registry data page:

    It says the theater was opened in 1956 (at least that’s the year they registered), and closed down in 2000.

    There’s also a page which I am not able to open normally mentioned: “(For unknown years) after the theater was open, it’s equipments were getting old and went out of business for a few years. The building was remodeled in the 80s, but was unable to sustain so rent to a furniture store, then converted into a billiard room in the year of 2000.”

    Also one thing worth mentioning, in 1992, a Taiwanese TV drama series called “意難忘” was filmed in Xinpu and used the theater as one of it’s important setting. Someone had uploaded the whole series on Youtube but I am still trying to identify which scene features the theater.

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