“Hong Kong film magnate Run Run Shaw, who built the Shaw Bros. studio into the largest in Asia in the 1960s and ’70s, popularized the kung fu genre around the world and later became a major philanthropist, died Tuesday at 106,” reports Julie Makinen for the Los Angeles Times. “Shaw’s studio—which he ran with his brother, Runme—churned out more than 1,000 films over more than five decades, from romances and musicals to action pictures…. ‘The influence of their martial arts movies is almost impossible to understate,’ said David Desser, an emeritus professor of film at the University of Illinois who now teaches at Chapman University. ‘There are almost no fight scenes in Hollywood movies today that don’t rely on Asian martial arts. And that’s directly attributable to these martial arts movies that the Shaw Bros. brought over in the 1970s.'”
“Born on Nov. 23, 1907, in Ningbo, south of Shanghai, in the waning days of China’s last imperial dynasty, Shaw was the youngest of six sons of textile merchant Shaw Yuh Hsuen.” Clifford Coonan in the Hollywood Reporter: “By the late 1960s, Shaw had risen to the status of media mogul unrivaled in Asia, growing his family’s theater chain, film studio and television network Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB) into a multibillion-dollar empire that helped to launch the careers of some of today’s biggest Chinese stars, including Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau and Chow Yun-fat. In addition to amassing the world’s largest library of Chinese films and helping to ignite a global kung-fu craze in the 1970s, Shaw also backed Hollywood hits such as director Ridley Scott’s 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner and had untold influence on directors ranging from Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill) to the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix).”
In the New York Times, Jonathan Kandell notes that the brothers actually started out in the theater. “The first play they produced was called Man From Shensi, on a stage, as it turned out, of rotten planks. As the brothers often told the story, on opening night the lead actor plunged through the planks, and the audience laughed. The Shaws took note and rewrote the script to include the incident as a stunt. They had a hit, and in 1924 they turned it into their first film. After producing several more movies, the brothers decided that their homeland, torn by fighting between Nationalists and Communists, was too unstable.” Kandell then traces the story from the move to Singapore in 1927, survival during World War II (the brothers had buried over $4 million in gold), Run Run Shaw’s setting up a second shop in Hong Kong in 1959, the “dragon-lady” pictures in the 60’s and the kung fu classics of the 70’s such as Five Fingers of Death (1973).
“Hong Kong’s most famous movie son, Bruce Lee, was the one that got away from Sir Run Run, however,” notes Paul J. Davies in the Financial Times. “In 1970, one of Shaw Studio’s producers, Raymond Chow, left to set up his own company, Golden Harvest. After seeing the young Kung Fu actor perform tricks on TV, Mr Chow took a $10,000-per-movie gamble on the future superstar that Sir Run Run himself had turned down.” Sir Run Run—he was knighted in 1977 for his philanthropy—”stayed active and alert by practicing qigong and eating ginseng” and “was still making corporate moves in his later years.”
The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver has notes on the trailers for some of the Shaw Brothers’ most notable films.