Show Business: The Empire of Run Run Shaw

  • Share
  • Read Later

Shaw is the name that dominates the movie business of Southeast Asia. Shaw Brothers' films, produced at Shaw's Movietown, shot in Shawscope color and shown in 143 Shaw-owned theaters, attract 250,000 people a day from Hong Kong to Jakarta, plus thousands more in Chinatowns around the world. Shaw Brothers grind out 40 titles a year (newest crop: Black Magic, Killer Clans, Five Shaolin Masters)−a sort of column A, column B menu of Oriental weepers with suicidal beauties, or Eastern Westerns featuring Kung Fu Mandarins.

But ever since Five Fingers of Death set U.S. and European box office records in 1973, Shaw Brothers has kept a keen eye out for Western fans. Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (a Shaw Brothers-Warner Brothers coproduction) was a hit in the U.S. This year Shaw Brothers bought the rights to Taipan from MGM and budgeted $12 million to film James Clavell's bestseller.

The motion picture potentate who rules this vast empire (which also includes amusement parks, shopping centers and office buildings) from his Movietown in Hong Kong is a grandfather of nine children, Run Run Shaw, 68. An older brother, Runme, 74, handles distribution from an alternate base in Singapore. "Everything is me and Runme," is how Run Run Shaw describes their joint holdings, valued at well over $100 million. But it is Run Run who makes all the movies (500 so far) and manages the business.

Shaw movies usually take anywhere from 35 days to three months to shoot and cost about $300,000. They are never filmed with a sound track. Instead, they are dubbed later in English, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish−even in their native tongue, Chinese. Run Run personally looks at all rushes. "Two reels and it's no good, OUT!" he exclaimed. "We're here to make money."

Run Run does that these days, he told TIME Hong Kong Bureau Chief Roy Rowan, "by making three versions of the same movie: a hot version (and we go the limit) for the U.S., Japan and Europe; a cold version with the bodies all covered for Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan; and a medium version for Hong Kong. Thailand used to be hot, but the students made an issue out of sex and so now it's cold."

Run Run has no fear of television's cutting into his profitable empire. "A small screen can never compare with a big screen," he says. "Moviehouses will carry on. People like to go out, they like to be in a crowd. I am very fortunate. Our organization owns so many theaters in this part of the world that there's no competition. As long as the Chinese population in Asia is big, I will get back my investment. Besides, I make movies only for entertainment−never politics." With all that going for him, Run Run Shaw is likely to achieve his life's goal:"to keep my family comfortable for a few generations."