Run Run Shaw, God Emperor Of Hong Kong Martial Arts Flicks, Dies At 106
Run Run Shaw, the producer who pretty much invented the Hong Kong movie industry, or at least exported it to the rest of the world, has died at the age of 106. It is believed that Shaw’s death was unrelated to the betrayal of a Kung Fu Master by his most promising student, who then turned to evil.
Born in 1907, Shaw and his older brother Run Me got their start in the movie business in China in 1924; in 1927, they moved to Singapore and started a film production and distribution company, importing movies and showing them in their own theaters. When Japan invaded the British colony in 1941, they buried over $4 million in gold, jewels, and cash, which they dug up after the war to restart their movie business. We would definitely watch the movie version of that.
Shaw moved to Hong Kong in 1959, where he set up a studio complex; his brother stayed in Singapore to run the business there. At first, Shaw produced elaborate, commercially successful dramas that were very loosely based on historical figures; Shaw also built a studio system much like the old American version, controlling all aspects of production and distribution from studio to local theaters. By the late 1960s he had shifted mostly to martial-arts flicks that were cheap and fast to produce, and highly profitable. His first big hit was 5 Fingers of Death (aka King Boxer), followed by many others. They weren’t Art, but they were awesome, and they brought us a whole vocabulary of action movie clichés. Unfortunately, because Shaw was also a control freak, he lost Bruce Lee to a rival studio started by former Shaw producer Raymond Chow, which again might make for a pretty good action movie plot in its own right.
Shaw managed to end up a billionaire anyway, and moved into television as well, controlling most of the TV market in Hong Kong and producing programming that was popular on the mainland. He launched the careers of stars like Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau and Chow Yun-fat, and the look and feel of his action movies influenced many other directors, particularly Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowskis. Kill Bill and The Matrix are feature-length love letters to Shaw-produced films of the ’70s.
Best line in the New York Times obit for Shaw?
Asked what his favorite films were, Mr. Shaw, a billionaire, once replied, “I particularly like movies that make money.”
There’s no way to top that, so we won’t even try. We know better than to challenge a master.