Run Run Shaw
November 23rd, 1907 to January 7th, 2014
November 23rd, 1907 to January 7th, 2014
Not as well-known as Harry Cohen, Samuel Goldwyn, or Louis B. Mayer but Run Run Shaw was just as important and influential in the Asian motion picture history. A fascinating life history.
"Legendary Producer Run Run Shaw Dies at 106"
January 6th, 2014
The Hollywood Reporter
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.
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 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 Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix).
"With his vision and energy, he had built the station to become Hong Kong's premier television station and a world leader in the Chinese-language television industry," TVB said in a statement.
Raised in China, Shaw received his education in American-run schools. In 1925, his elder brothers founded Tianyi Film Productions in Shanghai with the movie New Leaf. At age 19, during his 1927 summer vacation, Shaw followed his third elder brother, Run Me Shaw, to Singapore to start a film market and establish a Southeast Asia distribution base.
Recognizing the strength of the Chinese diaspora, they set about distributing Chinese opera films from Shanghai. By 1934, the elder Shaw brothers had established a Tianyi office in the British colony of Hong Kong, calling it Unique Film Productions, where Run Run would not assume control of production until 1957. Shaw Brothers was founded in 1958 with Run Run Shaw as president.
In 1966, Life magazine published an article on Shaw’s Movie Town studio, and in 1967, Shaw Brothers had a true hit when The One Armed Swordsman fought its way to the top at Hong Kong’s box office -- then the region’s richest -- to become the first movie to earn more than HK$1 million in local ticket sales, propelling star Jimmy Wang Yu to fame.
Seeing room for growth, Shaw immediately established TVB, the first over-the-air commercial station in Hong Kong, on Nov. 19, 1967.
In 1973, Five Fingers of Death, starring Lo Lieh, set U.S. and European box office records, igniting a kung-fu craze around the world that would propel stars like Bruce Lee to global fame.
By the mid-1970s, Shaw Studios was producing 40 movies a year, and some 250,000 people per day went to see them at 143 Shaw-owned theaters from Hong Kong to Jakarta, plus thousands more in Chinatowns around the world.
Soon Shaw Brothers was co-producing films with Warner Bros. (Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold) and putting $16 million into MGM’s production of the film version of James Clavell’s best-selling novel Taipan, shot in Hong Kong at Shaw Studios in 1986.
Through the late 1970s, Shaw often made movies for $300,000 each without a soundtrack, dubbing them later into English, Italian, French and Mandarin Chinese. Often films were shot in three versions: the racy “hot” one for the U.S., Japan and Europe; a “cold” one, showing no flesh at all, for Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan; and a “medium” one for the Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong audience.
Shaw had four children with his first wife, Wong Mei Chun, whom he married in 1937. Wong died at age 85 in 1987, and Shaw Studios stopped filming in the same year. Ten years later, in 1997, Shaw remarried, taking Mona Fong Yat-wa as his bride in Las Vegas. Fong became a deputy chairman of TVB in 2000.
Also in 2000, Shaw agreed to the sale of his unique library of 760 classic Chinese movie titles for $77.37 million to Celestial Pictures Ltd., a Hong Kong-based company owned by Astro All Asia Networks of Malaysia.
In the early 2000s, Shaw Studios entered a new era with Shaw’s own majority investment (made through his various holding companies) in the $180 million Hong Kong Movie City project, a 1.1-million-square-foot, full-service studio and production facility in Tseung Kwan O in eastern Hong Kong.
In 2007, coinciding with his 100th birthday, Shaw was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Although his direct involvement in film had diminished, his legacy lived on in the careers of many stars he helped launched through TVB’s steady stream of beauty pageants, soap operas, variety shows and dramas. The annual TVB Music Awards remains one of the most widely watched television events around Asia.
Also in 2007, TVB posted revenue of $559 million. That same year, Forbes estimated the worth of the Shaw media empire at $3.5 billion.
Reflecting at the peak of his fame in 1976, Shaw told Time magazine, “A small screen can never compare with a big screen. Movie houses will carry on. People like to go out, they like to be in a crowd...as long as the Chinese population in Asia is big, I will get back my investment. Besides, I make movies only for entertainment, never politics.”
In December, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) presented a special award to Shaw in recognition of his outstanding contribution to cinema.
Not one to hoard his wealth, Shaw donated billions of dollars to charity over the years, most recently contributing $13 million for disaster relief after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. His name adorns many hospital and school buildings in China and Hong Kong.
In 2004, 40 years after Chinese astronomers named an asteroid after him, Shaw established an annual international science award, the Shaw Prize, giving $1 million each to three people doing promising research in the fields of astronomy, mathematics and life and medical science.
Shaw is survived by four children and nine grandchildren. Shaw’s granddaughter Soo-wei Shaw was appointed head of the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2008.
"Run Run Shaw dies at 106; filmmaker built Asian entertainment empire"
Run Run Shaw churned out more than 1,000 films over 50 years from his sprawling 'Hollywood East' studios in Hong Kong. His empire grew to include theaters, amusement parks and TV.
January 7th, 2014
Los Angeles Times
In 1957, when he was nearly 50 years old, Run Run Shaw made a grand bet on his movie dreams. He bought 46 acres of hilly land in a remote part of Hong Kong — paying the British colonial government just 45 cents per square foot because of the poor topography and the Communist threat looming over the border with Mao Tse-tung's China — and set out to build his dream factory.
By the time Shaw Movietown officially opened in 1961, the mogul had 1,200 actors, directors and other employees on site, many of them living in dormitories. Visitors including Rock Hudson, Peter O'Toole and the Beatles came to see what was billed as "the busiest movie studio in the world" — a facility with 80,000 costumes, 12 soundstages and 16 permanent sets, including Chinese palaces, gardens and not least of all, a reproduction of the Great Wall.
Life magazine also came calling, chronicling Shaw's morning regimen of tea, noodles and qigong exercises, followed by a five-minute drive in his Rolls-Royce from his mansion down to the studio, where he would churn out up to 50 films a year. Shaw's movies — particularly his martial arts pictures — won over audiences not just in Asia but around the world in the 1960s and '70s, and influenced filmmakers from John Woo and Ang Lee to Quentin Tarantino for decades afterward.
"He set up Hollywood East when he built that big studio," said USC professor Stanley Rosen, an expert in Chinese cinema. "He was really the mogul of Hong Kong."
Shaw, who died Tuesday at 106 in Hong Kong, was the "end of an era, the end of a dynasty in Asian film," said Stefan Hammond, author of several books on Hong Kong film, including "Sex & Zen and A Bullet in the Head" and "Hollywood East."
Shaw's studio, which he ran with his brother, Runme, produced more than 1,000 films over more than five decades. He also co-produced American movies, including Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner."
But his empire went much further, extending to movie theaters, amusement parks, magazines and later a sprawling television operation, TVB, that now produces thousands of hours of programming a year. TVB's school has become well known for training top Chinese actors and directors, including Chow-Yun Fat and Andy Lau.
Starting in his 70s, Shaw became a major philanthropist, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to schools and universities, primarily in Hong Kong and mainland China. In 2002, he established the Shaw Prize, which awards $1 million each year to researchers who have made breakthroughs in three areas: astronomy, life science and medicine, and math.
But movies remained his core passion. A 2003 profile of him in Variety recounted that at age 96 he was still watching films at night in his home screening room.
"In the film industry, one walks a tightrope, with all its thrills, satisfactions and dangers," Shaw said in a 1977 interview. "That is perhaps why the business of making movies has given me the pleasure, the excitement and the fulfillment which I have always craved."
Born in 1907 to a Shanghai textile merchant, Shaw was one of eight children. He joined his elder brothers Runje and Runme in the film business in the 1920s.
Runje Shaw had a silent film studio, and his brothers were dispatched to Singapore and Malaysia to buy and build cinemas to show their brother's movies and other pictures that were being made in Shanghai — then the center of the Chinese filmmaking world. By the mid-1930s, they owned more than 100 theaters.
World War II and the Communist revolution in China, however, left the Shanghai industry in tatters. The Shaws, frustrated with the quality of films available to show in their theaters, decided to greatly expand what had been a temporary production base in Hong Kong. Run Run Shaw moved to the territory in 1957, and with his Movietown, shifted the creative center of gravity of the Asian film world to the British colony, Hammond said.
"They chose Hong Kong because it was the only place they had the freedom to make the films they wanted to make," he said.
According to a history of Shaw's company featured on its Singapore website, the new studio was funded by "all the gold, jewelry and cash into which the Shaws had converted their assets prior to the war and literally buried away."
David Desser, an emeritus professor of film at the University of Illinois who now teaches at Chapman University, said the Shaw Bros. "modeled themselves after the Hollywood studios of the 1930s, with even greater control.... Run Run was like a Louis B. Mayer-type — he had a very paternal attitude toward his stars."
(Even the Shaw Bros. logo, with the initials SB over a shield, looked much like that of Warner Bros. Viewers of Tarantino's film "Kill Bill Vol. 1" may recall seeing the SB logo in the opening credit sequence, accompanied by the words "Shaw Scope" and a trumpet fanfare.)
Actors and directors — not just from Hong Kong but also Taiwan, the mainland and even Japan — were put under contract. The studio spent significant sums on their movies, working in color and widescreen. "Every penny they spent, you could see on screen," Hammond said.
But Shaw was known for keeping a close eye on the bottom line; one famous story had him refusing employees' requests for some extra buns to eat. "Films are an art, but they're also an industry. Forget that a moment and you have a money loser on your hands," he said in a 1981 interview with Signature magazine.
By the early 1960s, the Shaw Bros. were producing the most popular movies in Asia, particularly romances, dramas and musicals such as the 1963 hit "The Love Eterne," from star director Li Han Hsiang. Their films were also starting to attract notice in Europe and the U.S.: In 1962, "The Magnificent Concubine," about a Tang Dynasty beauty, became the first Chinese film to receive a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
But Shaw's turn toward martial arts pictures starting in the mid-1960s would bring the company its greatest fame.
King Hu's "Come Drink With Me" (1966) helped usher in the era, and Chang Cheh's 1967 hit "The One Armed Swordsman" broke box office records for the studio, luring audiences with violence and bloodletting.
(Shaw's penny-pinching, however, would cost him the chance to work with Bruce Lee. Turning down what he considered a low-paying offer from the Shaws, the then-green Lee in the early 1970s took up with the Golden Harvest studio, founded by former Shaw executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho.)
Eventually, rivals such as Golden Harvest would come to eclipse the Shaw Bros. But well into the 1970s, the Shaws expanded their global reach by setting up theaters in places with significant populations of Chinese emigres, including San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
"I make movies to satisfy the hopes and desires of my audience; and the core of my audience is Chinese. What they desire to see on the screen are folklore, romances and popular subjects in Chinese history with which they are already familiar," Shaw said in a 1967 interview. "They miss the homeland they have left behind and the cultural tradition they are still cherishing."
The Shaw Bros.' martial arts movies did more, though, than attract multiple generations of Chinese American families, Desser noted. They drew in film buffs and cineastes, popularizing the kung fu genre stateside.
"The influence of their martial arts movies is almost impossible to overstate," Desser said. "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."
Just as kung fu began to explode, Run Run Shaw began moving into the then-infant business of television in Hong Kong, launching TVB in 1967 and largely exiting the film business by the late 1980s. TVB now operates five channels and is one of the biggest private producers of Chinese programming in the world.
But even Shaw's move to television, Desser noted, had an influence on film, as TVB trained and gave opportunities to a new generation of directors, many of whom like Wong Kar-Wai would become key players in the Hong Kong New Wave cinema of the late 1970s and early '80s.
More recently, TVB's acting training program has graduated a slew of performers who have gone on to fame, including Tony Leung, who was named best actor at Cannes in 2000 for Wong's "In the Mood for Love."
Shaw himself continued working with TVB, giving up his chairman title at age 104. Celestial Pictures acquired rights to the extensive Shaw Bros. film library in 2003 and has released scores of its titles on DVD.
Shaw, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1977, had two daughters and two sons. His first wife, Wong Mei-chun, died in 1987. Survivors include his wife, Mona Fong, TVB's deputy chairwoman, whom he married in 1997.
"Run Run Shaw, Chinese-Movie Giant of the Kung Fu Genre, Dies at 106"
January 6th, 2014
The New York Times
Run Run Shaw, the colorful Hong Kong media mogul whose name was synonymous with low-budget Chinese action and horror films — and especially with the wildly successful kung fu genre, which he is largely credited with inventing — died on Tuesday at his home in Hong Kong. He was 106.
His company, Television Broadcasts Limited, announced his death in a statement.
Born in China, Mr. Shaw and his older brother, Run Me, were movie pioneers in Asia, producing and sometimes directing films and owning lucrative cinema chains. His companies are believed to have released more than 800 films worldwide.
After his brother’s death in 1985, Mr. Shaw expanded his interest in television and became a publishing and real estate magnate as well. For his philanthropy, much of it going to educational and medical causes, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and showered with public expressions of gratitude by the Communist authorities in Beijing.
Mr. Shaw enjoyed the zany glamour of the Asian media world he helped create. He presided over his companies from a garish Art Deco palace in Hong Kong, a cross between a Hollywood mansion and a Hans Christian Andersen cookie castle. Well into his 90s he attended social gatherings with a movie actress on each arm. And he liked to be photographed in a tai chi exercise pose, wearing the black gown of a traditional mandarin.
Asked what his favorite films were, Mr. Shaw, a billionaire, once replied, “I particularly like movies that make money.”
Run Run Shaw was born Shao Yifu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, on Nov. 23, 1907. As a child, he moved to Shanghai, where his father ran a profitable textile business. According to some Hong Kong news media accounts, Run Run and Run Me were English-sounding nicknames the father gave his sons as part of a family joke that played on the similarity of the family name to the word rickshaw.
Evincing little interest in the family business, Run Run and Run Me turned instead to entertainment. 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. In 1927 they moved to Singapore, which was then part of British colonial Malaya.
Besides producing their own films in Singapore, the brothers imported foreign movies and built up a string of theaters. Their business boomed until the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula in 1941 and stripped their theaters and confiscated their film equipment. But according to Run Run Shaw, he and his brother buried more than $4 million in gold, jewelry and currency in their backyard, which they dug up after World War II and used to resume their careers.
With the rise of Hong Kong as the primary market for Chinese films, Run Run Shaw moved there in 1959, while his brother stayed behind looking after their Singapore business.
In Hong Kong, Run Run Shaw created Shaw Movietown, a complex of studios and residential towers where his actors worked and lived. Until then, the local industry had turned out 60-minute films with budgets that rarely exceeded a few thousand dollars. Shaw productions ran up to two hours and cost as much as $50,000 — a lavish sum by Asian standards at the time.
Mr. Shaw went on to plumb the so-called dragon-lady genre with great commercial success. Movies like “Madame White Snake” (1963) and “The Lady General” (1965) offered sexy, combative, sometimes villainous heroines, loosely based on historical characters. And by the end of the 1960s, he had discovered that martial-arts films in modern settings could make even more money.
His “Five Fingers of Death” (1973), considered a kung fu classic, was followed by “Man of Iron” (1973), “The Shaolin Avengers” (1976) and many others. Critics dismissed the films as artless and one-dimensional, but spectators crowded into the theaters to cheer, laugh or mockingly hiss at the action scenes. To ensure that his films were amply distributed, Mr. Shaw’s chain of cinemas grew to more than 200 houses in Asia and the United States. “We were like the Hollywood of the 1930s,” he said. “We controlled everything: the talent, the production, the distribution and the exhibition.”
Other Hong Kong producers, directors and actors called Mr. Shaw’s methods iron-fisted. In 1970, Raymond Chow, a producer with Mr. Shaw’s company, Shaw Brothers, left to form his own company, Golden Harvest, which gave more creative and financial independence to top directors and stars.
Mr. Chow’s biggest success, and Mr. Shaw’s most notable loss, was his decision to bankroll Bruce Lee. Mr. Lee initially approached Shaw Brothers, which turned down his demand for a long-term contract of $10,000 per film. Golden Harvest then offered Mr. Lee creative control and profit-sharing.
“The Big Boss,” better known as “Fists of Fury” (1971), was Mr. Lee’s first film with Golden Harvest, and it broke all Hong Kong box-office records. Other big-name actors and directors flocked to Golden Harvest, breaking Shaw Brothers’ virtual monopoly.
But Run Run Shaw had already expanded beyond the film industry. His investments in the new phenomenon of Asian television were to prove even more lucrative than his movie productions. In 1972 he began Television Broadcasts (TVB), and he soon gained control of 80 percent of the Hong Kong market. TVB churned out 12 hours of its own programming a day, much of it soap operas and costume dramas that riveted Chinese television viewers on the mainland and throughout Southeast Asia.
As his fortune grew, Mr. Shaw donated generously to hospitals, orphanages and colleges in Hong Kong, for which he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974 and awarded a knighthood in 1977. In 1990 he donated 10 million pounds to help establish the Run Run Shaw Institute of Chinese Affairs at Oxford University, where his four children had studied. In 2004 he established the Shaw Prize, an international award for research in astronomy, mathematics and medicine.
As Hong Kong’s days as a British colony dwindled, Mr. Shaw stepped up his philanthropy in China. He contributed more than $100 million to scores of universities on the mainland and raised money in support of Chinese victims of floods and other natural disasters. Chinese leaders toasted him for his generosity at banquets in Beijing.
Mr. Shaw’s philanthropy did not extend to the United States, but he was once viewed as a white knight in New York. In 1991, when Macy’s was on the verge of bankruptcy, he bought 10 percent of its preferred shares for $50 million, becoming one of the largest shareholders in R. H. Macy & Company.
The investment had a personal aspect. Ten years earlier, Mitchell Finkelstein, the son of Macy’s chief executive, Edward S. Finkelstein, had married Hui Ling, a Shaw protégée who appeared in many of his movies. Mr. Shaw met the older Finkelstein at the wedding, and they became friends.
In later years, the aging mogul himself seemed in need of help to keep his media empire intact. Concerned with the rise of cable and satellite television, he sold a 22 percent stake in TVB to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1993.
Mr. Shaw had intended to maintain control over his media business by balancing his one-third share in TVB against Mr. Murdoch’s 22 percent and the 24 percent held by Robert Kuok, one of Hong Kong’s richest entrepreneurs. But the balance of power shifted when Mr. Murdoch sold his equity to Mr. Kuok shortly afterward. Then, in 1996, in Hong Kong’s first case of a hostile takeover, Mr. Kuok forced Mr. Shaw to sell him his shares in TVE, the lucrative publishing, music and real estate subsidiary of TVB. The deal reduced Mr. Shaw’s TVB stake to 23 percent.
Mr. Shaw’s business situation was also hindered by his inability to groom credible successors. His sons, Vee Meng and Harold, were at one time heavily involved in the family enterprises, but their relationship with him had become strained.
Mr. Shaw’s first wife, Wong Mee Chun, died in 1987. He married Mona Fong, a former singer and actress, in 1997. She survives him. Other survivors include his sons and two daughters, Dorothy and Violet, also from his first marriage.
Even after turning 90, Mr. Shaw maintained a powerful presence in the Hong Kong film world through his control of Shaw Studios. But a newer generation of independent producers came to dominate the Hong Kong market with their own violent brand of police and gangster films.
Run Run Shaw [Wikipedia]