Tuesday, January 7, 2014

RIP Sir Run Run Shaw

The king of Hong Kong cinema - the wonderfully named Run Run Shaw - died today aged 106. What a life. Born plain Shao Yifu in Ningbo near Shanghai in 1907, he got into the industry with his three brothers during the silent era, first distributing, then producing films, then buying up cinemas - and not just in Shanghai but throughout South East Asia. 
It wasn't until he was 41 that he moved to Hong Kong to set up Shaw Brothers which in the 1960s became the biggest film production company in Asia, mainly concentrating on Chinese-language films. The most influential was probably The One-Armed Swordsman in 1967 which ushered in a whole genre of 'wuxia' (martial arts) action movies. However, after famously turning down Bruce Lee in the early 70s, he started to build up a TV empire (although still found time to co-produce some western movies, including Blade Runner; you can see the HK influence in the street scenes) and by 2006, his TV company controlled 80% of Hong Kong viewers. 
Despite his huge fame in east Asia, fabulous wealth and philanthropy, the thousand or so films he and his brothers made did not translate that well to western audiences (except of course Quentin Tarantino who was a big fan). I'm ashamed to say I've not knowingly seen a single film by him. And yet he was feted and knighted by the British establishment thanks to his philanthropy. He also gave generously to mainland China (both pre- and post-Mao), where he was equally respected. 

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