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Shaw's S'pore link goes back to 1924

Publication Date : 08-01-2014


Hong Kong movie mogul Run Run Shaw was a pioneering legend in modern Hong Kong cinema. But one of his favourite movies was a South African farce comedy, The Gods Must Be Crazy, about a tribe grappling with a coke bottle that fell from the sky.

It speaks of Sir Run Run's keen eye for what works across borders - and his success in introducing Hong Kong movies and television to Asia and the world.

To the sorrow of many acolytes and fans here, he died Tuesday morning at his Hong Kong home in Clearwater Bay. He was 106.

He is survived by his second wife Mona Fong, and his two sons and two daughters with his first wife Lily Shaw who died in 1987.

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, in a condolence letter to Run Run's widow, said the movie mogul will be remembered for his vision and determination in building a movie empire that touched the lives of many across the region. Lee said he was saddened by Run Run's passing, adding that their friendship went back more than 50 years and that they last met in May 2012 when he visited Hong Kong.

Run Run, who was knighted in 1977, founded film studio Shaw Brothers with his brother Runme, and television station TVB, choices rooted in his passion for popular entertainment. Film director Gordon Chan, who started as a production assistant at Shaw Brothers in 1981, recounted how Run Run would watch three or four movies a day at his private theatre in the office. Chan and other "errand boys" would be invited to join him after work.

"He loved films", recalled Chan, "especially commercial movies". "One he really liked was The Gods Must Be Crazy. He was saying, 'This is a great film, this should be distributed in Hong Kong. This is what people will like; it makes people happy!'"

Run Run himself made millions in Asia happy. He and his brother, a pair of entrepreneurial spirits from Shanghai, first sought their fortunes in Southeast Asia in 1924 when they set up Shaw Brothers in Singapore. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was prolific alongside rival Cathay in making movies like those starring Malaysian actor P. Ramlee.

The Shaws opened theatres including the city's first air-conditioned cinema in Beach Road and established amusement parks like Great World in Kim Seng Road.

In 1959, Run Run moved to Hong Kong where he oversaw the production of nearly 1,000 films.

To ensure his films were distributed, he grew his cinemas to more than 200 in Asia and the United States. He also dubbed his movies in Mandarin and English. Said Chan: "He was always thinking ahead instead of simply making movies and hoping for the best. He wanted to build an empire."

In the 1980s, he turned to television, having co-founded TVB, Hong Kong's dominant broadcaster, in 1967. Its dramas were popular with the Chinese diaspora.

Known for his kindness, he earned the loyalty of those who knew him. Businessman Robert Wang, who called him a mentor, said on Tuesday: "I cried uncontrollably when I heard the news."

In his later years, Run Run focused on philanthropy. On why he gave so freely to causes, he cited Singapore philanthropist Tan Kah Kee as a role model, according to Wang in his memoirs.

Then aged 97, Run Run had few regrets. "My life is perfect," he said.


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