Movies
4:39 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

Kung Fu Icon Dies at 106

Originally published on Tue January 7, 2014 7:40 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. When you think of Asian cinema, flying swordsmen likely come to mind and flashy stunts. And that's because of one of the world's most influential film producers, Sir Run Run Shaw. Over half a century, he created a studio that spawned the Kung Fu genre and helped modernize the Asian film industry.

Shaw died Tuesday in Hong Kong at the age of 106. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: A world without Run Run Shaw would've meant a world without Quentin Tarantino...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ULABY: Or the Wu Tang Clan...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Raw, I'm going to give it to you with no trivia.

ULABY: Or "The Matrix."

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM "THE MATRIX")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I know kung fu.

ULABY: That global pop culture vernacular came from a Hong Kong media mogul who dominated the industry for decades. When Run Run Shaw was born, China still had an emperor. His father was a textile tradesman, but that did not interest Shaw and three of his older brothers. They went from producing Chinese opera in the 1920s to running movie theaters all over Southeast Asia.

Then, the enterprising Shaw brothers had a problem, says Asian film expert Grady Hendricks(ph). There was not enough money to fill all the screens they owned and buying movies was expensive.

GRADY HENDRICKS: And the price Shaw always wanted was cheap and the only other price he preferred was super cheap.

ULABY: That's how Run Run Shaw got into the movie business. Musicals, historical dramas, epic romances with high production values and lavish budgets. Starting in the 1950s, he build Shaw Brothers into a Hong Kong monopoly with a studio called Movie Town, says Grady Hendricks.

HENDRICKS: And it housed film stages, special effects studios, photo processing plants, dormitories for their stars, anything you'd need to make a movie, that was at Movie Town.

ULABY: In Asia, the Shaw Brothers studio was like Paramount, Warner Brothers and MGM all rolled up into one. It handled every aspect of the business and it changed movies forever. Before the Shaw Brothers, the biggest Asian movie stars were women. But starting in 1967, Hendricks says they introduced macho martial arts films with a massive hit called "One-Armed Swordsman."

HENDRICKS: Guys with bare chests, you know, mutilation of the male body, the swordsman gets his arm cut off, these guys are greased down and slick.

ULABY: Social unrest rocked the globe and this story about questioning authority popped in pop culture everywhere.

HENDRICKS: It was angry young men kicking over the old men holding them back. It was nihilistic. It was bleak. I would say really almost all modern day action movies sort of spring from this fountain.

ULABY: All in all, the Shaw Brothers produced more than 800 movies. Unfortunately, Run Run Shaw dismissed the talents of both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but generally his business acumen was amazing. He developed one of the biggest TV networks in Asia. He built thousands of schools and universities across China and endowed a Chinese studies institute at Oxford University.

He bailed out the Macy's department store chain in 1991 and he produced a Hollywood science fiction classic with a robot anti-hero. When he dies, it's a reflection on artificial intelligence and the fragility of memory. The movie, "Blade Runner."

(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "BLADE RUNNER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: All those moments will be lost in time like tears and rain.

ULABY: Run Run Shaw was an unparalleled figure in world cinema and the global imagination. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.