Taiwanese painter keeps up movie-poster tradition

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 4:16pm

In this day of multiplexes and 3-D projection, the Chuan Mei theatre in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan is a reminder of the way movie-going used to be.

Instead of computer-generated tickets and plush-sofa-like seats, patrons are given hand-stamped pieces of paper indicating the time of their performance and seated on simple metal chairs.

But the theatre’s most eye-catching pieces of nostalgia hang above the entrance: Hand-painted movie posters, three metres square, illustrate the daily bill of fare.

The oil paintings are the life’s work of 61-year-old Yan Jhen-fa, the last practitioner of this once-popular art form in Taiwan.

On a recent weekday morning, Yan was sitting in his makeshift studio on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, working on an action-packed poster advertising the apocalyptic blockbuster World War Z.

“The key is you have to recognise the special features of the person,” he explains, taking time off from his painstaking rendering of megastar Brad Pitt, the film’s leading man. “We have to enlarge the painting from a smaller original, so you have to know how to scale the picture first.”

Theatre owner Wu Jun-cheng acknowledges that by using Yan to make the posters, he is bucking the trend of modernity. But he says it’s well worth it for him to pay Yan NT$20,000 (HK$5,207) a month to produce two or three posters per week.

“We think the oil paintings give our theatre a certain atmosphere,” he says. “And because Mr Yan can paint so well, we don’t want to give that up.”

To patrons, the posters and the theatre’s overall simplicity are welcome throwbacks to an era they remember happily.

“I take my children here so they can experience the old movie theatre atmosphere,” said Carey Chen. “Of course, there are other movie theatres with better interior designs, but the tickets are more expensive and there is no sentimental feeling about it.”

In recent months Yan and his posters have begun to attract considerable interest throughout Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city. He now holds weekend painting classes, attended by as many as 40 students.

But reflecting on a career that spans some 40 years, he doubts that any of them will follow in his footsteps and become full-time painters of movie poster art.

“It’s hard work and requires lots of patience,” he explains. “Still, I am happy to spread my love of painting to more and more people.”



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