Sunday Matinee: Run Run Shaw

Shaw BrothersThe last of the Shaw Brothers passed away on January 7, 2014. Run Run Shaw was the youngest of six brothers although only four of them entered the film industry.

The oldest brother Runje Shaw started the Tianyi Film Company in 1925. Based out of Shanghai, it was mostly a chain of cinemas but soon they started making movies to play their theatres. In 1931 they produced the first sound film. In the mid-1930s Runje sent Runme and Run Run to Malaysia to set up a new studio there. The studio was successful but was shut down during WWII. After the war and after the communists came to power in China, Runje retired from the film industry but second oldest brother Runde Shaw had set up shop in Hong Kong with a new studio called Shaw & Sons. Runme and Run Run moved to Hong Kong and took over the studio. In 1955 the studio was renamed the Shaw Brothers Studio and it quickly became the largest producer of cinema in Asia.

The company made a large variety of films, from dramas to romantic comedies but it became internationally known for (and helping popularizing) the kung fu genre. Starting in the mid-1960’s the studio started making wuxia or costume sword dramas. Groundbreaking films like Come Drink with Me in 1966 which was the first female starring kung fu action film and mega-hits like One-Armed Swordsman paved the way for action stars like Bruce Lee. Lee was approached by Shaw to make his first film with them but he was insulted by their standard basic starting salary. Former Shaw Brothers second in command Raymond Chow had left Shaw Brothers in 1970 to form his own film company. He signed Bruce Lee to Golden Harvest which helped make the studio Shaw Brothers biggest rival. Golden Harvest would later sign Jackie Chan and dominate the kung fu market in the 1980’s.

In the 1970’s the Shaw Brothers made a couple of co-productions with Hammer Studios. The result was The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. The last of Hammer’s Dracula movies had Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing fight Dracula with the help of some kung fu fighters. The second and last collaboration between the two studios was the 1974 action film Shatter. Run Run started a TV studio in the 1970s called Television Broadcasts Limited which became more lucrative than the film industry. By the mid-1980s Run Run stopped Shaw Brothers from producing movies and focused solely on TV.

While only producing movies for three decades, Shaw Brothers managed to make over 1000 films in that time. Run Run also co-produced Blade Runner. The studio has influenced hundreds of filmmakers over the years. Quentin Tarantino even used the Shaw Brothers logo and theme music at the start of his kung fu homage Kill Bill. Run Run didn’t retire until 2011 – at 104 years old! During his lifetime he donated HK$6.5 billion (which is almost a billion Canadian) to colleges and universities. In the 1970’s he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The legacy he leaves behind will be homaged, remade and felt for years to come.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka has spent most of his life watching movies and reading comic books. He has decided to use this vast knowledge for evil instead of good.