Tianwaitian Theater 天外天劇場 has been in the news in Taiwan a lot the past couple of weeks so I figured I would share some information and few pictures of the theater.
Tianwaitian Theater 天外天劇場 is the last of Taichung’s 台中 theaters from the Japanese Colonial Era. It’s been in the news because it’s being demolished. For the past number of years the owner has wanted to demolish it but he has been stopped while the government has been deciding whether it’s a historical building or not.
In early January 2021, the government revoked its tentative monument status and demolition work resumed.
Built by a famous local Taichung resident, Wu Ziyu 吳子瑜. Construction began in 1933, and opened in 1936. It was Taiwan’s largest private European style theater. It even cost more to build than Taichung’s train station.
As with most theaters at the time it held dance shows, plays, Taiwanese Opera, Beijing Opera, and of course films. It was famous all over Taiwan but unfortunately had to close down in 1944 because of the war.
It finally reopened in 1948 but had to close later the same year due to poor business and Wu Ziyu sold the building to help renovate the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial House 臺北市國父史蹟館(逸仙公園))
It was reopened as the International Movie Theater 國際大戲院. It showed movies, and of course, as with many movie theaters in its day hosted dance shows and adult movies. The area around the theater also became one of Taichung’s famous red-light districts. Even today there are a number of people who are working in the “special industries” around the theater. The area even gets a mention in 羅大佑 Lo Da-Yu’s song 火車. “一站一站 過過停停 男兒的天外天” which is basically “one station and stopover at men’s Tianwaitian. “
The theater closed down in the mid-1960s, but the red-light district survived.
In 1975, it became a refrigeration plant 泰源冷凍廠. It held lots of frozen fish, international ice cream, and other frozen goods. That lasted until 1990 when the plant closed down.
Its last iteration was as a shrimp fishing business, pigeon loft, and gaming establishment. That business closed down in 2012 and the cultural preservation fight began.
From 2014 until January 2021 the owner has been wanting to demolish it but the government has been blocking his plans. Finally, in January 2021, the owner has been allowed to demolish it.
I went into the theater in December 2016. It was “guarded” by the local pimps in the area. You had to get in without them noticing and yelling at you. I got in but as with many people got seen coming out.
As you can see a lot of demolition work had already started when I went in and there wasn’t much to see. So check out this excellent blog post that has better pictures than mine and shows what it looked like a little before I went in.
It is a private business and if the government doesn’t want to save it then he’s allowed to do whatever he wants with it. Such is life. It’s just too bad because the history is great and the roof is super cool and special.
The super cool roof. It’s a Pratt truss dome.
So that’s the theater.
If you want to go and say hi, go quickly because it will be gone very soon.
5 thoughts on “Tianwaitian Theater 天外天劇場”
Another great tour, thanks. You organized it well, too, which is very helpful in giving me a sense of the history of the place. One thing I noticed in the photos was the lack of piles of trash here and there (as seems to be the ordinary case with many old theaters you visit.) Did the pimps who guarded the place sweep?
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Yes, I think because by the time I went in it cleaned up. And then it was guarded well so no one could go in and mess it up.
Sorry for my poor hanja translation skills but does 天外天 = heaven outside of heaven? Great information provided, wish I could explore as much colonial stuff as you did. I’d really like to see abandoned Shinto shrines.
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As for the name it may come from since the view at the top was so good it was the highest level. Or it may be because of a name that the original owner’s daughter gave the owner. careless(in Taiwanese) sounds like Tian天 or something like that.
I think that I will write about another old shrine soon. I just want to return and get a couple better pictures whenever I can find the time.