Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Godspeed Sir Run Run Shaw

Sir Run Run Shaw, who co-founded the Shaw Brothers Studio and TVB (the first free to air television station in Hong Kong died today, 7 January 2014, at the age of 106.

Sir Run Run Shaw was born Shao Yifu on 23 November 1907. He was the youngest of the six sons of a textile merchant in Shanghai. He attended American run schools in Shanghai. In 1927, at the age of 19, he went to Singapore to work for his older brother Runme Shaw's film distribution and production operation.  After producing several silent films they produced what is largely thought to be the first Chinese talkie, Spring on Stage. In 1937 Run Run Shaw wrote and directed Country Bumpkin Visits his In-Laws, the only film he would write and direct.

Unfortunately for the Shaw Brothers, in 1941 Singapore was invaded by Japan. The Shaw Brothers saw were stripped of their cinemas and the Japanese seized their movie making equipment. Run Run Shaw said that he and his brothers buried gold, jewellery, and money in their backyard in the amount of $4 million for when the war ended. It was then 1957 that the Shaw Brothers founded the Shaw Brothers Studio  in Hong Kong. In 1961 the Shaw Brothers Studio opened a new, state of the art studio complex called Movietown on the Clear Water Bay Peninsula. The Shaw Brothers Studio produced a varied array of films. Their drama The Magnificent Concubine (1962) became the first Chinese language film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival (it won the Grand Prix for Best Interior Photography and Colour). While the studio produced films in a number of genres, however, they would soon become best known for their wuxia films (in English commonly lumped together as "kung fu movies"). Their film One-Armed Swordsman (1967) was a box office smash. Not only was the Shaw Brothers' motion picture production prospering in the Sixties, but by the mid-Sixties they owned over 200 cinemas in Asia and North America.

It was in 1967 that Run Run Shaw founded Television Broadcasts Limited (better known as TVB), the first free to air television station in Hong Kong. It would become the dominant television station in Hong Kong, as well as the largest producer of Chinese language television programmes in the world. In 1970 the Shaw Brothers Studio released Chinese Boxer. The film took a more realistic approach to martial arts than the wuxia films that had preceded it and proved to be a hit at the box officer. It was in 1973 that their film King Boxer (under the title Five Fingers of Death) proved to be a hit in the United States. Along with various other factors it would ignite a kung fu fad in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The Shaw Brothers Studio co-produced The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) with Hammer Films. It would be released in a mutilated form in the Untied States as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula.

Unfortunately beginning in the Seventies Shaw Brothers Studio would face increasing competition in the martial arts film market from Golden Harvest. In the late Seventies and Eighties Run Run Shaw served as a producer on the English language films Blood Beach (1980) and Blade Runner (1982). In 1985 Shaw Brothers Studio ceased film production and concentrated entirely on television. Since then the Shaw Brothers Studio has produced only a few films over the years.

Beyond movie making Sir Run Run Shaw was the first chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1973 and was one of its financial supporters since then. He served on the Board of Trustees of United College (part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong), as well as president of the Hong Kong Red Cross. He was very much a philanthropist, active in fund raising for the Community Chest of Hong Kong  and donating literally billions to various charities, hospitals, and schools. He established the the Shaw Prize for research in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine in 2004. In 1994 he donated 10 million pounds to help found the Run Run Shaw Institute of Chinese Affairs at Oxford University

There can be no doubt of Sir Run Run Shaw's impact on both Hong Kong film making and Hong Kong television. To put things in perspective, he was in many respects the equivalent of such American film moguls as David F. Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer, as well as such television moguls as William S. Paley and David Sarnoff. To say he was one of the most powerful entertainment moguls in the world would be an understatement. It must also be pointed out that Sir Run Run Shaw was largely responsible for the popularity of kung fu films in the Anglosphere. While Golden Harvest made their contributions, it was a Shaw Brothers film that (King Boxer or Five Fingers of Death) was the first kung fu film to be a bona fide hit in the United States. Of course, it must also be pointed out that Sir Run Run Shaw was a philanthropist, contributing billions to various charities, hospitals, relief funds, and schools. Even beyond the films he produced, then, Sir Run Run Shaw made a difference in people's lives.

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