Sir Run Run Shaw: Film mogul whose studio kick-started the kung fu genre and inspired the likes of Quentin Tarantino


Run Run Shaw built a Hong Kong film and television empire that nurtured rising talents, inspired Hollywood film-makers such as Quentin Tarantino and produced the 1982 sci-fi classic, Blade Runner. Shaw Brothers Studios, once among the world's largest, turned out nearly 1,000 films and gave young directors like John Woo their start. In 1967 he founded Television Broadcasts Limited, which remains a dominant force in Hong Kong; it was where stars like Chow Yun-fat got their first breaks. Wong Kar-wai, the director behind critically acclaimed arthouse films like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, got his start on a TVB training course and worked at the station briefly as a production assistant. Shaw led TVB until retiring as chairman in 2011.

Shaw (pronounced "Shao" in Mandarin), was born near Shanghai to a wealthy textile merchant, the sixth of seven children. His elder brother Runme Shaw set up a silent film studio while another, Runje, went to Singapore in 1923 to market films to South-east Asia's Chinese community, eventually opening 139 cinemas across the region.

After the Second World War the company faced competition from rivals in Hong Kong and Singapore, so Shaw moved to Hong Kong in the late 1950s to modernise the company. He shifted the focus from exhibiting films to producing them and renamed the company Shaw Brothers. His path to dominance began in earnest in 1961 when he opened Movie Town, a vast state-of-the-art studio in Hong Kong's rural Clearwater Bay, bought with a lopan from the British government. With 1,500 staff working on 10 sound stages it was reputed to be the most productive studio in the world. At its busiest it made 40 films a year, most featuring kung fu, sword fighting or triads.

The result was a library of nearly 1,000 films such as The One Armed Swordsman and The Five Fingers of Death. The studio's logo, the initials "SB" on a shield, was inspired by the Warner Brothers emblem, in a nod to its Hollywood aspirations. It came full circle when Tarantino appropriated the ogo for his two Kill Bill films, which paid homage to the studio and other Hong Kong martial arts films. To prepare, Tarantino recalled, "For a year, I'd watch one old Shaw Brothers movie a day – if not three."

Films were produced with assembly-line methods; stars and technical staff alike lived on site. Budgets were low and production schedules were between 35 days to three months. The producer acknowledged that quality was not his foremost concern: "We're here to make money." Even Shaw protégé Raymond Chow complained about the B-movie quality of the films when he was hired to work in the publicity department. "I told Sir Run Run to forget it," he recalled. "I said I did not think I could keep my job because the pictures were so bad." His comments earned him promotion to the production department.

While Shaw didn't create the kung fu genre, he was quick to capitalise on its trendiness and used a modernised studio system and centralised production techniques to pump out films quickly. In their heyday Shaw films were reportedly seen by 1.5 million people a week, many in the cinemas owned by the brothers.

He failed, however, to spot the potential of an up-and-coming Bruce Lee, who had returned to Hong Kong after a stint in Hollywood. Lee wanted a bigger salary and creative control but Shaw wouldn't budge from the standard contract given to all his actors. Lee signed with rival upstart Golden Harvest, founded by Chow to get away from his former boss's factory-like system. Other up-and-coming stars like Jackie Chan also spurned Shaw's methods. Audiences eventually moved on to grittier, more realistic or contemporary action fare, though Shaw films still have a solid cult following globally. The Shaw film library was sold in 2000 to Celestial Pictures, which has been restoring and re-releasing them digitally.

Film production ceased in 1983; by then Shaw had switched his focus to television. In 1973 he took control of TVB, still Hong Kong's dominant station. It was the launching pad for the careers of talents like Chow Yun-fat, Wong Kar-wai, heart throb Andy Lau and comedian Stephen Chow. Its Chinese programmes are seen by 300m households around the world.

Shaw, knighted in 1974, was also a philanthropist. In 2002 he founded the annual Shaw Prizes, which offer U$1m to winners in mathematics, medicine and astronomy. He rarely gave interviews, even about his philanthropy. A journalist for the South China Morning Post recounted mentioning during a 1984 interview that a team fighting leprosy in China had trouble traversing the mountainous terrain. Shaw donated off-road vehicles but demanded that there be no publicity.

Shaw married Mona Fong, a former singer, in Las Vegas in 1997, about 10 years after his wife, Lily, died. He had hired the former singer as a procurement manager in 1969. By 1999, she was managing director and deputy chairman of Shaw Brothers.

Run Run Shaw, media mogul: born Ningbo, Zhejiang, China 14 October 1907; married 1932 Lily Wong Mee Chun (deceased; two sons, two daughters), 1997 Lee Mong-lan (Mona Fong); died Hong Kong 7 January 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?