Show Business: What Makes Run Run Run?

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Heroin for the Hero. World War II produced the next crisis. The brothers converted their capital into gold and jewels, buried them beneath the air-raid shelter in their Singapore garden, subsequently fled (in their pajamas) just ahead of a Japanese raiding party. After war's end, they found their treasure intact—or so they say. Only the pearls, complains Run Run, had turned a little brown.

Today—minus Brother Run Ji, who was trapped by the Communists in Shanghai in 1949 along with $5,000,000 in SB assets, and Brother Di, who retired—the firm grinds out 60 Chinese and ten Malay films a year. Their Singapore and Hong Kong studios lack soundproofing or air conditioning, are located near airfields, where land values are low. Scenery is used over and over again, and so are the stories, most of them straight reproductions of Cantonese operas—historical dramas filmed in lush color but hopelessly complicated and slow-paced. (In a typical saga, princesses may suffer kidnaping and slavery, unwittingly kill off their family, undergo famine and disease in hour after hour of misery.) An actor usually stands on a chalk line in front of the camera and for two or three hours moves little more than his lips. Although stars get only $3,000 to $6,000 per picture, their temperaments make Hollywood stars seem undemanding; one famed performer refuses to go on unless he is regularly supplied with heroin by the studio.

If quality is missing from many SB productions, extravagance often is not. SB is sinking $1,000,000 into a color spectacular called Beauty of Beauties, plans eleven more before the year is out. Although a large part of the Southeast Asian market is now threatened by mounting nationalist pressure against the overseas Chinese, the SBs mean to make up for it by invading the Western market. Also, the brothers have just finished building a $2,000,000 marble theater in Singapore, are building a $5,000,000 studio in Hong Kong. But they refuse to say by how much they have multiplied that buried treasure in the garden. With three separate bookkeeping departments to keep earnings well concealed, Run Run says only: "It's enough for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren."

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