Sir Run Run Shaw Passes
One of the most influential figures in the Asian entertainment industry, Sir Run Run Shaw passed away on 7 January, 2014, aged 107. The Hong Kong entertainment mogul and philanthropist founded the Shaw Brothers Studio, one of the largest film production companies in the world, and Television Broadcasts Limited, the dominant television company in Hong Kong.
The youngest of six sons of a Shanghai textile merchant, Run Run Shaw career in the entertainment industry gathered pace in 1927 when he journeyed to Singapore to assist his third elder brother, Runme Shaw, in their business venture there, initially to market films to south-east Asia’s Chinese community.
They established the company that would later become the Shaw Organisation, and were involved in distributing and producing films in South East Asia. The involvement of the Shaw brothers in film-making began earlier in Shanghai in 1924 when the three elder brothers of Run Run Shaw founded the Tianyi Film Productions (also called the Unique Film Productions) in Shanghai to produce silent films. They also produced what is considered the first sound-on-film Chinese talkie in 1931. They made the first Cantonese sound film in 1932 which proved highly successful, and a branch of the Tianyi Film Productions was then established in Hong Kong in 1934.
Prior to the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in 1937, Tianyi moved its operation to Hong Kong, shipping their equipment from Shanghai. The studio in Shanghai was destroyed when the Japanese later occupied the province. In Hong Kong, Tianyi was reorganized as Nanyang Studio, which later became Shaw Studios. Run Run Shaw was credited with scripting and directing one movie in 1937, a comedy called Country Bumpkin Visits his In-laws.
In his early days in Singapore, Run Run Shaw stayed to supervise their company’s business while Runme travelled north to Malaya to establish ties with local theatre owners. In 1927, after noting that there were few cinemas in Malaya, Runme decided to open four cinemas there so they would have their own cinema chain to show their films. By 1939, the brothers owned 139 cinemas across the region, and the chain of cinema theatres would later include Singapore’s first air-conditioned cinema at Beach Road. They also established a number of amusement parks throughout the region, including Borneo, Thailand and Java.
The brothers began to make Malay films in Singapore in 1937 and established Malay Film Productions (MFP). This company would eventually produce over 160 Malay films, with many of its film directed by the legendary P. Ramlee, until their studio at Jalan Ampas ceased film-production in 1967.
In 1941, the Japanese invaded Singapore and Malaya and stripped their theaters and confiscated their film equipment. According to Run Run Shaw, he and his brother buried more than $4 million in gold, jewelry and currency in their backyard and dug it up after the war to resume their careers.
In 1957, Run Run Shaw moved to Hong Kong and established the Shaw Brothers in 1958. Run Run Shaw adopted the Hollywood model of a permanent production site where his actors worked and lived on 46 acres in Clearwater Bay. At the opening of the Shaw Movietown in December 1961, Shaw Studios had the world’s largest privately owned film-production outfit with about 1,200 workers shooting and editing films daily.
By the 1960s, Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Ltd. was Asia’s biggest producer of movies, including director Li Han-hsiang’s The Magnificent Concubine, which took the Grand Prix at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, the 1963 blockbuster musical film The Love Eterne also directed by Li Han-hsiang, King Hu’s 1966 pioneering wuxia film Come Drink with Me, and Chang Cheh’s 1967 The One-Armed Swordsman, which broke the box office records. Shaw’s companies in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong made more than 1,000 movies, with annual production peaking at 50 pictures in 1974. Shaw also looked for opportunities in the United States and produced a handful of U.S. films, including the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.
In 2000, through his company, Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Limited, he sold his unique library of 760 classic titles to Celestial Pictures Limited. Continuing to show perseverance, Shaw Studios entered a new era with Shaw’s majority investment (through his various holding companies) in the US$180,000,000 Hong Kong Movie City project, a 1,100,000 square feet (100,000 m2) studio and production facility in Tseung Kwan O.
In 1967, he co-founded Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), the first free-to-air television station in Hong Kong, growing it into a multi-billion dollar TV empire with channels broadcast in 30 markets including the U.S., Canada and Taiwan, making it the world’s largest producer of Chinese-language programs. Shaw took a greater interest in TVB after he succeeded Harold Lee as TVB chairman in 1980. Shaw leased most of Shaw Brothers’ filmmaking facilities to TVB in 1983. Under Shaw’s chairmanship, TVB successfully launched the careers of international stars such as Chow Yun-fat and Maggie Cheung, singers like Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, and directors like Wong Kar-wai. In 2006, TVB had 80 percent of Hong Kong’s viewers and 78 percent of the city’s TV advertising market.
In December 2011, Run Run Shaw retired as chairman of Television Broadcasts Ltd. at that age of 104 after more than 40 years at Hong Kong’s biggest television company, after selling his controlling stake to a group of investors including HTC Corporation chairman Cher Wang and ITC Corporation chairman Charles Chan for HK$6.26 billion in March. He was then renamed chairman emeritus.
In 1974, Sir Run Run was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He received a knighthood in 1977 from Queen Elizabeth II and the Grand Bauhinia Medal (GBM) from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government in 1998.
In 2007, coinciding with his 100th birthday, he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. In 2013, Sir Run Run received the BAFTA Special Award for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
He is survived by his wife, Ms. Mona Fong, sons Vee Meng and Harold, daughters Violet and Dorothy, nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
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