Monday, March 10, 2014
By Kelvin K. Chan
The Associated Press
HONG KONG — Run Run Shaw built a Hong Kong movie and TV empire that nurtured rising talents like actor Chow Yun-fat and director John Woo, inspired Hollywood filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and produced the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.”
Movie producer Run Run Shaw admitted that quality was not his top concern. “We’re here to make money,” he told Time magazine.
The Associated Press
Shaw’s prolific studio helped bring kung fu films to the world, but he also passed on the chance to sign one of the biggest names in that genre: the young Bruce Lee.
The missed opportunity was a rare misstep for Shaw, who died Tuesday, according to a statement from TVB – Television Broadcasts Limited – which he helped found in 1967. No cause of death was given.
Shaw’s studio gave his age as 107, but according to the Western counting method, he may have been 106 because the Chinese traditionally consider a child to be 1 at birth. TVB said he was born in 1907, but would not provide his birth date.
His Shaw Brothers Studios, once among the world’s largest, churned out nearly 1,000 movies and gave young directors like Woo their start. He produced a handful of U.S. films that also included the 1979 disaster thriller “Meteor.”
Shaw’s television empire, which remains a dominant force in Hong Kong, was where stars like Chow got their first breaks. Wong Kar-wai, the director behind critically acclaimed art-house movies like “Chungking Express” and “In the Mood for Love,” got his start through a TVB training course and worked at the station briefly as a production assistant.
Shaw (pronounced Shao in Mandarin) led TVB until retiring as chairman in December 2011 at the age of 104. He is survived by his second wife and four children from his first marriage.
Shaw was born the sixth of seven children near Shanghai to a wealthy textile merchant. Elder brother Runme Shaw set up a silent film studio, Unique Film Production Co. Shaw, and another brother, Runje, went to Singapore in 1923 to market films to southeast Asia’s Chinese community and eventually opened 139 movie theaters across the region.
After surviving World War II, the company was faced with growing competition from rivals in Hong Kong and Singapore, so Shaw moved to Hong Kong in the late 1950s to modernize the company. He shifted focus from exhibiting films to producing them, and renamed the company Shaw Brothers.
His path to Asian moviemaking dominance began in earnest in 1961 when he opened Movie Town, a vast, state-of-the-art studio in Hong Kong’s rural Clearwater Bay. With 1,500 staff working on 10 soundstages, Movie Town was reputed to be the most productive studio in the world. At its busiest, actors and directors churned out 40 movies a year, most of them featuring kung fu, sword fighting or Asian gangsters known as triads.
The result was a library of nearly 1,000 movies such as “The One Armed Swordsman” and “The Five Fingers of Death,” the latter being one of Shaw’s most successful in the United States.
The studio’s logo – the initials SB on a shield – was inspired by the Warner Brothers emblem, in a nod to its Hollywood aspirations. It came full circle when Tarantino appropriated the Shaw Brothers logo for use in his two “Kill Bill” movies, which were in homage to the studio and other Hong Kong martial arts movies.
“For a year, I’d watch one old Shaw Brothers movie a day – if not three,” Tarantino told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2003, discussing his preparation for filming.
Films were produced with assembly-line methods, and stars and technical staff lived in dorms on site. Budgets were low and production schedules were quick – 35 days to three months, according to a 1976 Time magazine report.
(Continued on page 2)