Saturday, January 18, 2014

In Memoriam: Sir Run Run Shaw

The new year begins on a somber note with the passing of the great man responsible for a film empire that had and still has worldwide impact, Sir Run Run Shaw. Along with his brother, Runme, Shaw created a movie studio that was the jewel of Asia and beloved by the West.

Shaw got involved in the movie business from the 1930's at the behest of his family to help out an older brother. This would see him through travels to Singapore and Hong Kong, where he eventually settled in the 1930's to the 1950's. Imagine - living through constant war and still having the temerity to help craft an empire. Singapore was the main base at first, seeing Run Run and his family turn one movie house into 139 over a few years throughout the island nation as well as in Borneo, Java and Malaya. (Side note: Shaw is given some credit during this period for helping to spur the 'Golden Age Of Malay Cinema'.)In addition to movie houses, the family also built multiple amusement parks. Run Run and Runme were key to this rapid growth. It all came to a halt once the Japanese invaded in 1941. The army confiscated all of their equipment. But, they didn't get the cash - Run Run stated that he and his brother buried cash, jewelry and other valuables in their backyard. The haul that restarted their business? $4 million dollars.

Settling down in Hong Kong in 1957, Run Run saw the great possibilities at hand. Forming Shaw Studios a year later, he would oversee the tremendous success right away. He made a power move by purchasing 46 ACRES of land from the government at Causeway Bay to create Shaw Movietown. It would prove to be the world's largest privately owned studio with 1,200 workers. His films garnered international acclaim beginning in 1962 with The Magnificent Concubine. Shaw Studios became the prominent movie company in Asia, running their own magazine, Southern Screen and holding competitions yearly to see who would be the next starlet or action hero. Many famous names from Cheng Pei Pei to Ti Lung to Linda Lin-Dai got their start with Shaw Studios. Never one to overlook any opportunity, Shaw even sent stars to the United States on tours of movie sets in Hollywood. This dominance went on well into the 1970's, seeing the studios turn out 50 flicks a year at one point. There was even collaborations with Italian studios and most notably, Britain's own Hammer Studios. That joint venture brought about the cult classic Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires. (Side note: there's a UK documentary on Shaw done in the late 1960's as part of a travelogue series that fully explores Movietown entitled 'Fists of Fire'.Peep it below.)

The late 1970's saw a slight shift in Shaw Studios' fortunes with competition from Golden Harvest, and other outfits from Taiwan along with Japan's resurgence in the field. Run Run had anticipated this however by creating Television Broadcasts Limited(TVB) in 1967. TVB being the second television network in Hong Kong, it became a high-grossing outlet for his films and other programming. It's said that even in Guangdong there were hundreds of illegal aerials to pick up the signal not allowed under Mao Zedong's regime. During the 1980's, he began the transition of power from the movie studios to the TV side of things. In the process, those films found their way over to homes in the United States via independent TV networks showing them on weekends. TVB was responsible for launching the careers of famed stars such as Chow Yun-Fat and Maggie Cheung among others. He also had a hand in other films being made, most notably Ridley Scott's sci-fi epic, Blade Runner in 1982.

In his later years, Sir Run Run(he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977) would work tirelessly. A devotee of qigong, he ensured his life had great balance. He also was a Rolls Royce man, owning quite a few of their cars. He worked until he was 100 YEARS OLD. Chew on that for a minute. Shaw also was a great philanthropist, creating the 'Shaw Prize' for recognition of achievement in the sciences. He even had an asteroid named after him. It's reported that he donated at least 10 BILLION dollars to charities, organizations and educational facilities. Sir Run Run Shaw passed away peacefully at the age 0f 106 this past January 7th. A giant in so many ways. Thank you, sir.

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