Film projectors and film copies met in the cinema and then parted with the advent digital cinema. But movie copies are always in circulation. Monumental cinema buildings will collapse and die, while movie projectors will cross mountains and oceans to reach places, with or without electricity, to show a movie.
I’ve told different friends many times about film projectors from mainland China being smuggled across the strait into Taiwan, although I’m too lazy to verify the truthfulness of the stories now. In fact, you may find the complete story by just typing in a few keywords on Google: projectionist, Jinggang Mountain, Hong Kong.
Fang ying shi (projectionist), a term used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, is called fang ying yuan in mainland China.
Jinggang Mountain was the earliest armed base of the Chinese Communist Party. The August First Film Machinery Factory in Shanghai, considered by Taiwanese projectionists to have a military background, produced a 35mm projector which was also given the name “Jinggang Mountain”. Jinggang Mountain projector used to be widely used in projecting films in the Mainland.
Hong Kong, prior to the opening of air links between the mainland and Taiwan, served as a transit point for cargo ships, travel and letter correspondence across the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In the early 1990s, a staggering number of Jinggangshan projectors were smuggled into Taiwan via Hong Kong to meet Taiwan’s market demand. At that time, there was a popular trend of hiring projectionists to show a film in private spaces despite the booming commercial film industry and the expansion of cinemas in general. Around 1990, two masterpieces of Taiwanese cinema were made: City of Sadness (1989) and A Brighter Summer Day (1992). I can’t help wondering if the two films, both of which are full of sorrow over Taiwan’s postwar history, have ever passed through the body of any Jinggangshan projector from the Mainland?
During the preparatory stage of ‘On Kino’, I had only one 16mm vampire movie in hand. The first movie was shown with a borrowed projector, which was owned by an old projectionist who lived in the same village as me. We only got to know each other shortly before the cinema opened, and actually it was from him that I learned how to operate the 16mm projector. It wasn’t until May 2022 that I purchased a wrecked 35mm Jinggangshan projector from a collector in northern China. The projector was in poor condition and had been remodelled. Again, it was the same projectionist who came to help me repair it. Two months later, I brought the projector to the city of Xining in the far west of China where I arranged a screening of a 35mm print of City of Sadness from the ‘On Kino’ cinema collection. Under this arrangement, the Taiwan film “re-enacted” its passing through the body of the Jinggang Shan projector. By the way, I’ve also spoken to different friends many times about how I got a copy of this film.