Friday, November 2, 2012

Hsinchu's Historic Movie Theater

The Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum.
One of Taiwan's oldest and most historic movie theaters is the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum, which is located in the northern city of Hsinchu. In the nearly eight decades since it first opened, this theater has shown a number of movie classics and has not only survived, but taken part in a number of tumultuous events in the region's history.

When it initially opened, the theater was known as the Yu Le Hall. It was built in 1933 when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. When it first opened, it was the first modern air-conditioned and indoor theater on the island. The interior design is a combination of Roman and Arabesque designs that were intended to magnify the "splendor" of the Japanese Empire. The theater showed the most popular Chinese and Japanese movies of the day.

To the people living in Taiwan at the time, Yu Le Hall was a place of grandeur filled with bright lights and flickering film images during a time when most people were poor and could only dream of watching a movie in this cinema.

In 1941, Yu Le Hall played a role in one pivotal moment in history. On December 7th, Japanese Air Force pilots stationed at nearby air bases watched their last movie in this theater before embarking on bombing missions over Allied targets in southeast Asia.

Despite suffering heavy damage from an Allied bombing raid during the war, Yu Le Hall stayed open after the Japanese departure at the end of World War II. After the war, the theater was renamed the Kuo Min (National) Theater and became Taiwan's most modern movie theater. It didn't take long for Kuo Min to become a hotspot as Taiwan started to modernize and become a much more urbanized society!

Throughout its life as an ordinary theater, the Kuo Min Theater showed not only movies, but operas, concerts, musicals, and plays as well. It was also used for ROC military recruiting throughout the Cold War period.  US military servicemen stationed nearby who were part of the MAAG advisory group in Taiwan during the 1950s-1970s often frequented the theater as well. The Kuo Min Theater showed all the latest Taiwan blockbusters, as well as hits from the West and elsewhere, and it usually stayed very packed during its heyday!

In the 1980s, its status as a hotspot started to change. Video and other entertainment industries started to take off. More people were renting and buying movies instead of going to the theater to see them on the big screen. This took its toll on the cinema's profits. Also, Kuo Min Theater was involved in some local disputes with the local Hsinchu governments. These factors led to the closure of Kuo Min Theater in 1991.

For the next few years (except for a brief period in 1996 when the cinema was temporarily re-opened to host the city's local events during Taiwan's national arts festival that year), Kuo Min Theater was abandoned. However, all of that changed in 2000, when the local city government in conjunction with The Chinese Taipei Film Archive re-opened the cinema as the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum. This museum is dedicated to Taiwanese cinema from its beginnings up to the modern day.

On display at the new museum is old film and movie theater equipment from the 20th century, exhibits of movie stills, and other pictures from Taiwan's movie history. Also, the museum shows themed film festivals and various other movies from around the world. In short, there's plenty here for the film buff - and the Taiwanese film buff in particular - to see and enjoy!

When it was built, the Yu Le Hall was a place that was intended to be majestic and cosmopolitan. Today, almost eighty years later, it is still a hotspot for movie lovers and Taiwan cinema! (Homepage for the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum.) (Excellent article about the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum and its history as a cinema.) (A page from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's website about the museum.)

(Image copyright: Mmonhsi via Flickr)


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