Tue, Mar 20, 2018 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Movie theater shuts down after 59 years

FINAL CURTAIN:A promotional event to revive old cinemas boosted viewer numbers for a while, but it was not enough to save the decades-old establishment

By Ho Tsung-han and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The ticket office of Tung Sheng Theater, which closed on March 1 after 59 years of operation, is pictured in Miaoli County’s Toufen City on March 2.

Photo: Ho Tsung-han, Taipei Times

A movie theater in Miaoli County’s Toufen City (頭份) on March 1 closed down after 59 years of operation due to fierce competition from large cinema complexes.

Hsu Lin-pin (徐琳彬), the owner of Tung Sheng Theater, said that he saw a huge crowd at a movie theater in Miaoli City when he was 15 and decided to pursue a career in the movie theater business.

Two years later, he became an apprentice at a Taiwan Cinemas branch in Taipei’s Ximending (西門町) area, where he learned everything he needed to know about movie theater operations, Hsu said.

At the time, an imported movie projector cost more than NT$100,000, so he bought a second-hand projector from a Taipei movie theater for NT$30,000, repaired it and took it to Miaoli, Hsu said.

There were 30 theaters in Miaoli County in 1949, but only one of them showed movies, while the rest of them performed gezaixi (歌仔戲), a form of traditional Taiwanese opera.

Hsu said he traveled to the county’s townships to expand the market for movies.

In the early days, projectors did not have motors and had to be operated by a hand crank, Hsu said.

He hired five people — one for advertising on the streets, two for projecting the movies, one for ticket sales and one for collecting the tickets, he said.

Hsu said he was responsible for traveling to and from Taipei to deliver the films.

Expanding the market was difficult, Hsu said, adding that for five to six years, he worked until 10pm every day and waited for the technician to disassemble the projector before transporting the machine to the next township overnight.

Hsu said he became the leading expert in Miaoli’s film circle and movie theater owners paid him to teach them how to operate their projectors.

In 1959, Chiang Chi-pao (江基寶) asked Hsu to operate Hsin Sheng Theater in Toufen.

Chiang in 1985 sold the theater and Hsu in 1989 bought a floor in the building to replace the theater with the two-hall Tung Sheng Theater.

Now 88 years old, Hsu said he misses the “golden age” of cinema during the 1960s and 1970s, when The Love Eterne (梁山伯與祝英台) and wuxia (武俠, “martial arts”) films by Hong Kong film production company Shaw Brothers were popular.

There were 70 to 80 film companies in Ximending alone during the time and you would meet movie stars on your way to purchase movies, Hsu said.

Art films did well in Taipei’s theaters and continued to do well after running in cinemas for two to three months, but no one in the countryside wanted to see them, Hsu said.

People in rural areas did not understand art films, but enjoyed the action in wuxia movies, he said.

He would specifically choose films that had done well in the box office in Taipei, Hsu said, adding that Titanic sold out for 39 consecutive days.

He met his wife, Tang Sung-mei (湯松妹), through movies, too, Hsu said.

After the theater’s projection equipment and operations were digitalized, he let the staff go and continued running the business with Tang. They projected movies almost all year round, Hsu said.

Even though their business was affected by television, video tapes, pirated copies of films and the Internet, Hsu and Tang said they insisted on continuing “even if there was only one customer at their door.”

However, the entrance of large cinema complexes into the local market greatly influenced their business.

“Our two sons said they wanted to take us traveling overseas while we can still walk,” the couple said.

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