RUN RUN SHAW, 1907-2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Run Run Shaw, the billionaire Chinese entertainment tycoon renowned for his kung-fu films, has died at the age of 106. He was celebrated as the co-producer of Ridley Scott's 1982 cult hit Blade Runner. In their heyday, Shaw's martial arts films were watched by nearly two million people a week, many of them in the cinemas owned by Shaw and his brothers in Southeast Asia. He ended up with a media empire that stretched from Hong Kong to Hollywood. "For a year, I'd watch one old Shaw Brothers movie a day – if not three," director Quentin Tarantino told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2003, talking about his preparation for filming. Tarantino appropriated the Shaw Brothers logo – the initials SB on a shield – for use in his two Kill Bill films. Shaw also produced the 1979 science fiction disaster thriller Meteor, which starred Sean Connery, Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda.

Yet it's for his kung-fu movies that he will be remembered, even though he failed to signed Bruce Lee because of a disagreement over money. Lee instead joined rival film studio Golden Harvest and went on to become the world’s biggest kung fu star.

Shaw was born in Ningbo, in the Chinese province of Zhejiang, on November 23, 1907. He was nicknamed 'Uncle Six' as he was the sixth of seven siblings. He got his first break with older brother Runme when they founded a film production house in Shanghai in 1927. He said that he and his brother had buried up to £3 million in gold, jewellery and cash in their garden before the Japanese invaded Singapore during the Second World War. "After the war we were still rich," he said.

But it was in the Sixties that his cinema dominance of Southeast Asia began in earnest, when he opened Movie Town, a huge, state-of-the-art studio in Hong Kong's rural Clearwater Bay. Shaw was in charge of 1,500 staff and they were churning out 40 films a year, most of them featuring kung-fu and the triad gangs.

Sir Run Run Shaw in Hong Kong, 2008

Shaw Brothers Studio went on to make more than 1,000 films, including The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, The One Armed Swordsman and The Five Fingers of Death. The studio nurtured young directors such as John Woo but Shaw acknowledged that the quality of his films was not his foremost concern. "We're here to make money," he told Time magazine in 1976.

Shaw also helped found Hong Kong broadcaster TVB, whose sitcoms, variety shows and soap operas became immensely popular and gave acting breaks to Chow Yuen-fat, Tony Leung, Stephen Chow and Andy Lau, who later went on to movie stardom. Shaw, often seen in a Rolls Royce, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1977 for his public service as a long-time backer of the Red Cross. He is survived by his second wife Mona Fong, and his two sons and two daughters.


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