Remembering Sir Run Run Shaw (1907-2014)

The world was saddened by the news yesterday that Sir Run Run Shaw passed away at the amazing age of 106 (107 by Asian terms – the first year counts as age 1). Sir Run Run Shaw was Hong Kong’s greatest media mogul, but is perhaps most famous for his impact on kung fu and action movies as a whole by founding the legendary Shaw Bros. studio.

Born Shao Renleng in Ningbo, Zhejiang in the Qing Dynasty on November 23, 1907, Shaw was the youngest of six sons. He helped his brothers to form Malay Film Productions in the 30’s making over 160 Malay films. The Japanese invaded Singapore and Malaya in 1941, confiscating film equipment and stripping theatres of material. According to legend, Run Run Shaw and his brothers buried about four million dollars worth of gold and jewelry in their backyard, retrieving it later to start over after the war.

Sir Run Run Shaw moved to Hong Kong in 1957 and established Shaw Bros. studios in 1958, borrowing the Hollywood film model of a permanent production site where actors and technicians can live and work. Sir Run Run Shaw used government money to buy 46 acres in Clearwater Bay.

Shaw Bros. studio made over 1,000 movies and was Asia’s biggest producer of films in the 60’s. Sir Run Run Shaw produced numerous action epics and even produced Blade Runner in 1982. Shaw Bros. studio has influence countless filmmakers, most notably Quentin Tarantino and John Woo among them. Words cannot really stress the importance and impact that Shaw Bros. has had on the worldwide film industry. Under Sir Run Run Shaw, the studio pioneered the wuxia movie and popularized martial arts and kung fu movies in general. If you’ve only ever seen cheesy kung fu movie dubs, I encourage you to watch a Shaw Bros. film with the original actors’ voices and subtitles at least once. Shaw Bros.’ movies always had the highest quality production values of all kung fu pictures of their time, and the stories were smart and top-notch. Some notable titles are Come Drink With Me, The One-Armed Swordsman, Five Element Ninjas, Five Deadly Venoms, and 36th Chamber of Shaolin just to name a few. Shaw Bros. also made children’s films, dramas, comedies and the occasional horror title. I’ve found that I’ve never gone wrong from picking a random Shaw Bros. title and watching it. Not one Shaw Bros. picture has underwhelmed me.

Sir Run Run Shaw was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. Being a philanthropist, Shaw donated money to numerous charities and helped where he could.  Sir Run Run Shaw changed his focus from film to television in the 70’s, taking control of TVB which became Hong Kong’s dominant TV station. Many on-screen talents found this as their launching pad from Andy Lau to Chow Yun Fat and even Stephen Chow. Whatever Shaw decided to do, he was the very best at it.

Sir Run Run Shaw is survived by four children and his second wife Mona Fong, TVB’s deputy chairwoman. Our condolences to his family, friends and film lovers everywhere.