It feels strange to write this, but as of this summer Taitung 台東 has a new movie theater. This new movie theater is near the corner of Shin Sheng Road 新生路 and Guang Ming Road 光明路, in downtown Taitung.
The new movie theater, Showtime 秀泰電影城 by name, is the second cinema to open in Taitung. The first cinema was on Da Tong Road 大同路, not far from the Seashore Park 海濱公園. The old movie theater was about the size of my living room, and it burned down two or three years ago. Some locals have fond memories of it, but I can’t say that I miss it all that much.
In the interim between the burning down of the old movie theater and the opening of the new one, they showed movies at the Cultural Center 文化中心 on Nan Jing Road 南京路. This, in my opinion, was the best place to see movies. It was never crowded there, the screen was huge, and the tickets were cheap. The Cultural Center didn’t have the best selection of films, but wandering down there to see the latest blockbuster was enough for me. I always felt that the ease of seeing movies in that place far outweighed the poor picture quality.
But of course not everyone felt that way. A lot of people wanted Taitung to have a “real” movie theater, primarily as a way of attracting tourists. The Taitung County Government, ever responsive when it comes to business, went out of its way to make this happen. Almost before anyone knew it, they were digging up the old Guo Gwang Bus Station 國光客運, and laying the foundations of what was to be Taitung’s first true multiplex.
After I returned from Seattle this August, I had my chance to see this multiplex for myself. My wife and I snuck out to see “Elysium,” and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never imagined something so big and so modern sitting in the middle of Taitung City. There were stores and restaurants on two floors, escalators that worked flawlessly, and on top of the building there was the multiplex itself, with more screens than I could readily comprehend. Not only were they playing “Elysium” in this multiplex, but also several other films at the same time. Not only could I see a movie there, but I could also visit Mister Donut, buy clothes at Uniqlo, or enjoy the most expensive hot pot yet seen in Taitung. It was all a little hard to process.
And as you might imagine, most of the people there were tourists. There were tourists from Taipei, tourists from Japan, and (I'm sure) at least a couple of tourists from China. As I stood there, waiting for the movie to start, I reflected on the growth that Taitung's tourism industry has experienced, and how much things have changed since I first moved here in 2006. Back in 2006, if anyone had tried to build this kind of multiplex they would have been laughed out of the county. Back in 2006, it would have been a no-win proposition.
Yet then again, it might still be. I can’t help but wonder how many people frequent this multiplex during the weekdays, and I can’t help but wonder what their business will be like from September to January. It will take a lot of money to keep that theater open. It will take even more money to keep those clothing stores and restaurants profitable. Can the tourists really sustain that place? The 200,000 or so people in Taitung City sure can’t.
I guess we’ll just have to see. Similar places stay open in Hualien City 花蓮市, but then Hualien City has at least three times as many people as Taitung. It might be that the place is closed before next summer. It might be that the whole thing was a scam from day one. In Taitung you never know. Often a building project like that starts out with the best intentions, and then someone higher up gets their hands on it, and finds a way to launder cash through the project. I’m not saying this is the case with the movie theater, but one never knows.
I kind of hope the place stays open. It will be nice to see the big blockbusters on the day they come out, and to have another shopping center with air-conditioning. At the same time, I wouldn’t be so sad if it closed down. In the event, I could just go back to Kaohsiung’s Dream Mall 高雄的夢時代, a place where I prefer seeing movies anyway. No matter what stores Showtime has, it will never have screens as big as Dream Mall, or as many stores and restaurants to choose from. You can easily spend a day in Dream Mall, while half a day in Showtime is already pushing it.
I realize that the attraction of a place like Taitung is the slower pace of life, and the lack of development. With this in mind, the idea of a multiplex in Taitung can be kind of depressing. It helps to remember that one person’s “east coast paradise” is another person’s crushing poverty, and there were a number of economic reasons behind building this movie theater. While I can’t say that I favor this kind of development, at least it’s not another coral jewelry outlet, or something even worse for the environment.
Wherever you are, happy Moon Festival 中秋節快樂. Perhaps I’ll be seeing you at the movies.
|Taitung's Cultural Center|