Run Run Shaw
Born Shao Yifu in the Chinese seaport city of Ningbo on November 19 or 23, 1907, he was the sixth of seven surviving children born to textile manager Shao Yuh Hsuen. Educated in English at private schools and at the YMCA, Shaw followed in the footsteps of his elder brothers Runji, Runde and Runme - whose unique nicknames were reportedly a play on the similarity between their family name and the English word "rickshaw" - and joined their growing interest in the entertainment business. The brothers found their first success with a play written by Runji titled "The Man from Shensi," which provided them with their springboard into the nascent Chinese movie industry when they produced a film version in 1924. The Shaw brothers soon opened their own production and distribution unit, the Tianyi Film Company, which soon expanded into a host of distribution companies and theaters throughout Southeast Asia, including Singapore, where Run Run Shaw was based for many years, and Hong Kong, which became the Shaw Brothers Organization's home base in 1940 after the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Though the invading Imperial forces confiscated the company's film equipment and theaters, they rebounded shortly after the end of World War II thanks to Run Run's decision to bury more than $4 million in gold and currency in their home's backyard. In 1957, Run Run and Runme established a new company, Shaw Brothers Ltd., on a massive plot of land in Kowloon, Hong Kong. At the time, the city hosted the third largest film industry in the world, after the United States and India, and the brothers rose to the occasion with the ensuing studio and production company, titled Shaw Movietown. The largest privately owned film production outfit in the world, it had more than 1,200 workers shooting and editing 20 to 40 films a year during 60-hour work weeks. The hallmark of Shaw Brothers' product was a Hollywood-style opulence - their films cost five times the average of other Hong Kong pictures - applied to a wide array of genre pictures, from comedies and spy films to sexy dramas and even musicals. But their best-known efforts were historical dramas and martial arts movies, which featured such action stars of the 1960s and 1970s as Lo Lieh, Alexander Fu Sheng, Ti Lung and Cheng Peipei. Their output included such classics of the genre as King Hu's "Come Drink with Me" (1966), "The One-Armed Swordsman" (1967), and "King Boxer" (1972), which, when released to American audiences as "Five Fingers of Death," helped to establish the kung fu craze with Western audiences. One of the earliest Shaw Brothers historical films, "The Magnificent Concubine" (1962), won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival that year. The Shaw Brothers' grip on the Asian film industry was loosened in the 1970s by the emergence of Golden Harvest, a rival film company founded by the Shaws' former publicity chief and production supervisor Raymond Chow. Shaw's notoriously iron-fisted control over budget and creative independence had spurred many of its actors, directors and producers to strike out on their own, and Chow struck gold by signing actor Bruce Lee, whom Shaw had lost due to a lowball contract offer. Lee would go on to become the biggest martial arts star of the 1970s and a bona fide cultural icon, while one of his successors, Jackie Chan, would continue Golden Harvest's winning streak in the 1980s and beyond. Shaw refocused the company's interests through international co-productions with England's Hammer Films, among other companies, and by launching Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), Hong Kong's first commercial television station in 1967. Within a few years' time, the company had blossomed into a sprawling, multi-billion dollar empire with channels in 30 countries, including the United States. Run Run Shaw also donated billions of dollars to educational institutions, charities and hospitals throughout Hong Kong and Mainland China, which earned him appointment as a Commander of the British Empire in 1974 and a knighthood in 1977. During this diverse period, Shaw Brothers also continued to produce and fund motion pictures both in Hong Kong and abroad, including Ridley Scott's science fiction classic "Blade Runner" (1982), until 1983, when Movietown was shuttered for more than a decade. In the 1990s, Shaw sold a 22 per cent share of TVB to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. The Australian mogul then sold his share to Hong Kong entrepreneur Robert Kuok, who forced Shaw to sell his shares of TVB's lucrative publishing, music and real estate subsidiaries in a 1996 hostile takeover effort. With his influence on TVB greatly reduced, Shaw again refocused his empire on real estate and business ventures, including a $50 million investment in Macy's, which revived the department chain's flagging fortunes. He also continued his charitable and philanthropic efforts, founding the Run Run Shaw Institute of Chinese Affairs at Oxford University in 1990 and the Shaw Prize, an international award for scientific research in astronomy, mathematics and medical science, in 2002. That same year, he sold the rights to the Shaw Brothers Studio's massive film library, which brought many of their legendary titles to legal home video for the first time. Shaw remained active at TVB until his retirement in 2011 at the age of 104. Two years later, Shaw passed away at his home on January 7, 2014. Numerous Hong Kong political leaders attended his funeral and executives while world figures like Xi Jinping, president of the People's Republic of China, paid tribute with statements to the press.