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Run Run Shaw: A Legend of A Century
   2014-01-09 17:31:20    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Liu Kun

We take a moment to reflect on the life of Run Run Shaw, movie mogul and philanthropist in Hong Kong who passed away Tuesday morning. [Photo:cfp.cn]

Movie mogul and philanthropist Shao Yifu, widely known as Run Run Shaw, passed away Tuesday morning at his home in Hong Kong. Today we would like to take a moment to reflect on his life which spanned 107 years in order to pay tribute to a man that built a media empire and supported many educational and scientific programs that we benefit from today.

Liu Kun has the story.


The logo of Shaw Brothers, the initials of "SB" on a scallop shaped shield, appeared on many of the big movie hits coming out of Hong Kong during the 60s and 70s. Kung-fu movies produced by the Shaw Brothers, the studio owned by Run Run Shaw and his brother Runme Shaw, were widely adored across Asia, and among Chinese communities in western countries. In their heyday, films created by the Shaw Brothers were reportedly watched by 1.5 million people a week.

Run Run Shaw's TV empire, Television Broadcasts Limited or TVB, served as the launching pad for the career for many talented individuals including actors Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, and Stephen Chow, to name just a few. The Chinese programs produced by TVB are seen by 300 million households around the world.

Lo Hol Pang is a comic movie star who rose up thanks to a TVB Talent Training Course, a program Shaw established to cultivate actors and actresses.

"Go to any place in the world, if Chinese communities exist there, they know us. Even in very remote places, they still know us because they watched us on video tape. Sometimes when a certain TV episode came out on a certain night, the street would become so quite that even bus drivers went home to wait for the episode to be aired."

Run Run Shaw was born the sixth child of seven to a wealthy textile merchant in Ningbo, an eastern city close to Shanghai. He therefore received the nickname "Uncle Six". His brother Runme set up a silent film studio, Unique Film Production Co., in 1925 in Shanghai. At the age of 19, Shaw interrupted his study during a summer vacation and went to Singapore to market films to Southeast Asia's Chinese communities with his three brothers: Runji, Runde and Runme.

Exactly how the name Run Run came into being remains a mystery. James Wong, lyricist for the theme song of Shaw's hit TV series "The Bund", quoted Shaw in one of his books as saying that the name Run Run imitated the pronunciation of Shaw's original name "Ren Leng" in his local dialect in Ningbo. Actor Chow Yun-fat once joked about how Shaw got the name because back in Singapore he was always running between different Chinese communities, carrying his film rolls and trying to exhibit or distribute their films.

Chow's explanation may be a joke, but it somehow reflected the painstaking effort Shaw made to develop the Singaporean film market.

Zhu Chunting is Shaw's biographer.

"When they first started out in Singapore, they used a rickshaw to carry their screening equipment and ran from village to village to sell their films. It was really hard work."

The business of Shaw and his brothers kept growing and eventually they opened 139 movie theaters across the Southeast Asian region. During the 1930s, Shaw also produced The White Golden Dragon, the first Chinese film featuring sound, which created quite a sensation back then.

But the advent of World War II destroyed everything. In 1941, the Japanese invaded Singapore, stripped their theaters and confiscated their film equipment.

Legend has it that Shaw and his brothers buried gold and jewelry during the war and it was this gold and jewelry that enabled them to resume their business at full strength after the war.

In 1957, Shaw returned to Hong Kong which was then the center of the Chinese film industry. He shifted the company's focus from exhibiting films to producing them and renamed the company "Shaw Brothers".

He bought a 46-acre plot in Clearwater Bay, Kowloon, shaved a hill there, built and opened Movietown on the land in 1961. The establishment of Movietown, later reputed as "Hollywood East", ushered in the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s during which Shaw popularized a dozen film genres especially Kung fu movies and nurtured a galaxy of female stars.

Linda Lin Dai graced Li Han-hsiang's blockbuster opera film "The Kingdom and the Beauty" in 1959.

Betty Loh played an elegant and brave young lady who dressed up as a man in order to spend more time with her beloved in 1963 movie "The Love Eterne" which broke office records in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Cheng Pei-pei who later starred a major role in Ang Lee's Oscar Winning film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, rose to fame after starring in Shaw's pioneering 1966 kung fu movie "Come Drink with Me" as a solemn warrior goddess.

Perhaps the only talent that slipped out of Shaw's reach was Bruce Lee who signed a contract with Shaw's rival, Golden Harvest, which was willing to accommodate Lee's high salary demands.

Shaw Brothers was considered one of the most productive film studios in the world back then, pumping out 20 to 40 films a year. Stars lived in a dorm on-site, budgets were low and work shifts were tightly arranged. It was almost like an assembly line.

Most of Shaw's films featured kung fu, sword fighting or Asian gangsters. But what attracted theater goers was not only the action and fighting, it was also the legacy of traditions embedded in the storylines.

Pak Tong Cheuk, Director at the Academy of Films, Hong Kong Baptist University, talks about the attractive elements of Shaw's films.

"Where we could find ourselves is in films, especially in Shaw's. We could find a lot of traditional Chinese cultural imagination and reference there."

Shaw also tried his hand at producing American films in the late 70s and early 80s, including 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" and 1979 disaster thriller "Meteor."

The influence of Shaw's movies spans vast distances. When talking about his preparation for the action film "Kill Bill", American movie director Quentin Tarantino told the press he had watched one old Shaw Brothers movie a day for a year, if not three. Tarantino also paid tribute to Shaw by beginning the film with the Shaw Brothers scallop and trumpet fanfare.

As a shrewd businessman, even in his heyday, Shaw was able to sense the future would be in television. In 1967, Shaw co-founded TVB, which remains Hong Kong's dominant TV station. TVB has now grown into a multi-billion dollar TV empire with channels broadcast in 30 markets including the U.S., Canada and Taiwan.

For TV audiences, TVB is the symbol of many classic television series of which only the slightest hint would send people into nostalgic daydreams.

At the top of the list of classic shows is of course "the Bund", a love story between gangster boss Hui Man-Keung and Fung Ching-ching, daughter of a wealthy tycoon.

And "Looking Back in Anger", a retrospective on business tycoon Ding Yau Kin's life.

Another memorable classic was the 1983 martial art TV series "The Legend of the Condor Heroes".

With its ever sought-after TV series, TVB has seen a considerable amount of talented individuals rise to stardom internationally. Actor Chow Yun-fat, actress Maggie Cheung, singers Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui and director Wong Kar-wai all started out at TVB.

Chow Yun-fat attributes his success to Shaw.

"He started TVB with his bare hands all by himself. He trained many talented stars like me. May he rest in peace."

Shaw set up the TVB Talent Training Course and the beauty contest Miss Hong Kong Pageant in order to produce future stars for his TV station. One thing he probably would never have imagined is that many of the stars that the two programs cultivated, such as Tony Leung, Lau Kar-ling and Michele Monique Reis, later became the pillars of the Chinese showbiz industry.

In 2011, Shaw retired from his position as chairman of TVB at the age of 104 after more than 40 years of service.

However, what made Shaw more of an enduring influence is perhaps his philanthropy. He made billions in film and television and gave back nearly as much to society.

Since 1985, he donated about 4.75 billion Hong Kong dollars on educational programs across the Chinese mainland. On a map recently provided by one of China's largest search engines, buildings adorned with Shaw's name are visible in clusters across the country. And in Hong Kong, it seems as if half of the public buildings have his name on them.

Shaw also established "The Shaw Prize" in 2002, later widely regarded as the "Nobel of the East"; an annual award honoring those who made significant contributions to academic and scientific research or application.

And on occasions of disaster relief, he was often among the top donors.

Leung Chun-ying, chief executive of Hong Kong spoke out on Shaw's contributions to society.

"Shaw has made great philanthropic contributions in Hong Kong, to education in both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland and to scientific research globally. He is a venerable father figure to us."

Run Run Shaw was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

China's Purple Mountain Observatory discovered an asteroid in 1964 and named it 2899 Runrun Shaw in honor of him.

Across 107 years, Run Run Shaw became a guiding light that will illuminate generations for years to come.

For Studio Plus, this is Liu Kun.


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