Run Run Shaw lived to be 106 or 107 depending on how you count. And he might be the last of the old-fashioned media moguls. He and his brothers started making movies in 1925 in Shanghai. He went on to found Shaw. Bros. studio with his brother, Run Me Shaw, in the late Fifties. And in 1967 he founded Television Broadcasting Limited (TVB), where he continued working until 2011. That arc and length of that career just amazes me. He produced entertainment from 1925 through 2011. So often we talk about history as this disembodied thing, these external events. And then there is someone like Sir Run Run, who contained almost the entire arc of modern entertainment in his lifetime, in his self. I keep thinking of Faulkner’s “The past isn’t even past.”
On a much smaller, entirely personal level, he is responsible both directly and indirectly for so many of my favorite films, actors, and television shows. (I have a particular weakness for TVB’s 1980s adaptations of Louis Cha/Jin Yong’s Legend of Condor Heroes; Return of the Condor Heroes; and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, the basis of Wing Jong’s Kung Fu Cult Master, aka The Evil Cult). Directors and actors like: Chang Cheh, King Hu, Chor Yuen, Lau Kar-Leung, John Woo, Yuen Wo-Ping, Johnnie To, Tony Ching Siu-Tung, Sylvia Chang, Cheng Pei-Pei, Lo Lieh, Jimmy Wang-Yu, Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Lo Meng, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Philip Kwok Chui, Lau Kar-Yan, Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Kenneth Tsang, Jet Li, Maggie Cheung, Chow Yun Fat, Stephen Chow, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
Films like: Come Drink With Me; The Golden Swallow; Yang Kwei Fei; The One-Armed Swordsman; Return of the One-Armed Swordsman; The Boxer from Shantung; Five Fingers of Death/ King Boxer; 36 Chambers of Shaolin; Five Deadly Venoms; Lady Hermit; The Lizard; Blood Brothers; Master of Flying Guillotine; Clans of Intrigue; Sword Stained with Royal Blood; Legendary Weapons of China; Black Magic; Dirty Ho; Eight Diagram Pole Fighter; Super Inframan; The Mighty Peking Man; Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold; The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires; and Bladerunner.
I can list names until even I am bored.
Shaw Bros. and so, I guess, Sir Run Run, are a huge part of who I am as an adult. I do still have many things that I loved as a child that I still love and enjoy now, monsters, for example, but I’m kind of interested in the enthusiasms we pick up as we go through life. Things we choose as more developed people. I didn’t get into kung fu and wuxia movies, let alone Chinese melodramas, comedies and spy movies, until I was older. I am sure I had some experience with kung fu and wuxia movies earlier on, but some of my best memories are watching butchered kung fu movies with my sister on a thirteen inch color tv in her college dorm room. The night scenes were impenetrable. Voices came from nowhere and had peculiar faux-cockney accents. Often, standing characters were missing their heads. Now I realize that they’d edited not only for a tv aspect ratio, but to eliminate the English and Chinese subtitles on the original print. Fortunately, I didn’t get nostalgically hooked on mutilated, badly transferred kung fu movies.
I started seriously watching Hong Kong movies when I lived in Toronto. My partner at the time was very interested in going to the Golden Classics Cinema, co-owned by my old chum, Colin Geddes. Golden Classics specialized in bringing current or reasonably current Hong Kong films as well as Japanese classics (Kurosawa, Ozu, Naruse, etc.) to the screen. It was fantastic theater with a huge screen fully able to handle Shawscope. But it was also fantastically expensive to bring Hong Kong and Japanese prints to Toronto. So when Colin took his show on the road with Kung Fu Fridays, I followed, and even was Prize Queen at some of the biweekly and then monthly screenings. I’m pretty sure I saw 36 Chambers of Shaolin in a temporarily repurposed porn theater. (I know for sure that I saw Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow there). Barring illness, I went to every Kung Fu Fridays screening. I went to FantAsia Toronto. I went to FantAsia Montreal. I went to Shaw Bros. retrospectives and sat next to a cinephile who was, I think, cleaning his fingernails with his teeth during the non-sexy parts of Chor Yuen’s Intimate Confesions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972) and being even more disturbingly quiet during the sexy parts. People, who like my younger self didn’t appreciate the conventions of swordsman fantasy/ wuxia, laughed after a screening of King Hu’s beautifully stylized Come Drink With Me (1966). Now, I especially appreciate the stylization of wuxia film–the abstraction, the gorgeous sets and costumes, the gender-bending, the female roles, the fantasy. I appreciate that for every out and out evil villain, there is one that is sympathetic in many ways.
And these films, wuxia and kung fu films in particular, added to my appreciation of more contemporary Chinese cinema, not just homages to the films of Chang Cheh, King Hu and Lau Kar Leung like, Hero; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; Ashes of Time; The Grandmaster, much of Tsui Hark’s work and Stephen Chow’s comedic takes in Royal Tramp; Flirting Scholar; Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. or even John Woo’s elaboration of heroic bloodshed in his Eighties action movies. I enjoy thinking of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s lonely writer in his apartment writing these fantasies in Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love. And I understand a lot more about why China is supporting so many epics set during the Three Kingdoms and films about Ip Man because I learned to understand even a little of the social and political implications of kung fu and wuxia movies and tv made under British Colonial rule.
I honestly have no idea how many Shaw Bros. movies I’ve seen. I have no idea how many Chinese genre pictures I’ve seen. And since then, I’ve learned some of the stories well-enough that I’ve pursued them in translated manhwa (Chinese comics) by Ma Shing-Wing and Andy Seto, book form (when I can find Louis Cha in English) and in dvd sets of TVB wuxia shows.
So thank you, Sir Run Run. I owe you more than I can ever say.