Taiwan's Old Movie Houses

Kaohsiung Film Archive

One of Taiwan's oldest theaters, in Yunlin.

Taiwan's second movie theater, in Hsinchu. It has recently been converted into a restaurant.

I went down to Kaohsiung, Taiwan last Wednesday for something work-related. I had some time to kill, so I decided to check out the city a bit on my own. After walking along the Love River and watching rowing teams train for the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival, I wandered into the Kaohsiung Film Archive (above pic, top). The place has a good store of history on the film movement in Taiwan, one that has flourished spectacularly since the 1980s with New Taiwan Cinema directors such as Edward Yang (楊德昌) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢). While I was there, I received a tour of the place. My guides, two elderly Taiwanese women, took me through several of exhibits and their own experiences watching movies growing up in Kaohsiung, that included NT$10 movies, mostly Japanese and American as well as their favorite Taiwanese flicks. One of the women was wearing a vest signed by Mr. Hou. According to the ground-floor exhibit, Taiwan's oldest cinema opened in Keelung in 1908. Taiwan's longest-running theater is in Tainan.

I asked them about Taiwanese movies during the Japanese era, but they told me that they hadn't seen any. I'm always curious about this for, if no other reason, seeing old shots of Formosa, which seem to be limited in supply. The Kaohsiung Film Archive is quite stylish. Facing Kaohsiung's Love River, it has a geometric architecture, much like Taipei's Fine Arts Museum (very 80ish). Out front there is a row of glass benches which nobody, understandably, sits on. I wrote June Yip's comment on Taiwan film down in my journal, from Envisioning Taiwan: Fiction, Cinema, and the Nation in the Cultural Imagery: "In the imagery of colonialism, the dominant Western powers are most frequently represented as masculine warriors or explorers, while the territories and people of colonized non-Western countries are inevitably imagined as feminine: mysterious, passive, virginial, and implicitly available for conquest and domination" and have wanted to follow it up as it sounds about right to me; I'd love to see a film from the colonial period in Taiwan that backs it up.

I've been going to Kaohsiung for a decade. I can't believe how much the city has changed. They've now got Taiwan's second tallest building, 85 stories, the final link in the Taiwan High Speed Rail (one hour and 36 minutes from Taipei if you take the express train) and an MRT to meet it. Somebody down there has really been doing a good job. When I mentioned this to people in Taipei, however, they were skeptical. They pointed out a lack of attention to the law (people still don't stop for red lights or wear motorcycle helmets, they explained). They were even unimpressed by Kaohsiung's gorgeous new MRT stations, which are made of glass. "They reflect the sun and make the shops overheat. And the young women have trouble with their make-up now. It always melts," I was told.


zocalo said...

Taipei idiots! lol I can't believe the comment about make-up melting. WTF are these people thinking? I'm a Kaoshiung native but left about 20yrs ago. It's amazing how much has changed.

Patrick Cowsill said...


I think they can thank the last mayor for a lot of the progress has made cosmetically.