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Tainan’s oldest movie theatre strives to keep traditions alive

Chuang Mei Theatre is one of Tainan’s oldest second-run movie theatres with 67 years of history. Up on the walls are hand-painted billboards that are as vivid as movie posters in the modern days. Walking into the theatre is like walking down the memory lane for many Taiwanese.

Tainan’s oldest movie theatre strives to keep traditions alive

Chuang Mei Theatre, one of the oldest theatres in Tainan, is famous for its hand-painted movie posters. (Photo: Chao Fan-hao)

TAIPEI: Chuang Mei Theatre is one of Tainan’s oldest second-run movie theatres with 67 years of history. Up on the walls are hand-painted billboards that are as vivid as movie posters in the modern days. Walking into the theatre is like walking down the memory lane for many Taiwanese.

From the ticket boots, snack counter, to signs that read “air raid exit” or “remove hats”, are historical imprints carefully preserved and cherished here. And the interior design of the theatre remains the same as it was in the 70s.

Composite photo shows an old sign that reads "remove hats" hanging on the wall and an air raid siren alarm from the 50’s (R) at Chuang Mei Theatre. (Photo: Chao Fan-hao)

The 53-year-old owner, who inherited the theatre from his father, said he has made it a mission to keep the old traditions alive.

“Tainan is an old city. We like to preserve old things. After a while, this has become our unique feature. So why don’t we take advantage of our own strength,” said Wu Chun-cheng, owner of Chuang Mei Theatre.

This theatre was also where Oscar-winning director Ang Lee used to spend most of his past time as a student, watching films that had later inspired him to want to make movies.

“Director Ang Lee says he came here a lot when he was young. We feel very honoured.

His favourite film is The Graduate, said Mr Wu, who had invited Ang Lee to his theatre for screenings of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Hulk directed by the Tainan-born director.

The interior of the theatre preserves the look from the 70s. (Photo: Chao Fan-hao)

Local moviegoers say they like to come here because it brings back a lot of childhood memories.

"This theatre has been around for a long time, we have been coming here since we were little," said a customer. "The theatre has been around for many years, we can see old films that we don’t get to see elsewhere, so it’s very convenient," said another customer.

But that’s not the only allure that draws hundreds of visitors here a day. Artist Yen Chen-Fa, who hand-painted movie billboards for over 40 years, is now an icon of the theatre. Many visitors, local and foreign alike, would come here to watch him paint.

Artist Yen Chen-Fa’s hand-painted poster of the movie “Doctor Strange” is his favourite of all time throughout his 40-year career in painting movie billboards. (Photo: Chao Fan-hao)

“There’s no secret to this craft, you just have to understand its principle. For instance, you need to understand the line between light and shade to create a 3D dimension,” he said when asked what was his secret for such lively paintings.

His works have become so popular that he is now teaching painting classes to keep this dying trade alive. Over 300 students from around the world have come to learn the craft in the past three years.

Snack counter inside Chuang Mei Theater preserves the look of the 70s. (Photo: Chao Fan-hao)

“I think he is amazing, painting these people in giant billboards by hand and they look so real. So I want to learn from him,” said 24-year-old Bobo Chan from Macao. “I always find old memory fascinating. And I like to paint, so that’s why I’m here,” said 20-year-old student Chen Pei-jen.

Mr Yen has already made a name for himself abroad and he hopes to keep painting for as long as he lives.

Source: CNA/ec

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