With the passing of SIR RUN RUN SHAW, we look back on the centenarian’s preeminent life and reconsider the true meaning of a legend. By Elizabeth Lee
At 106 years of age, the media titan died peacefully in his home among his loved ones yesterday morning.
Being able to live past a century is a feat many aspire to reach but few are actually able to do so. And in the case of the late Run Run Shaw, he has not just lived to see and participate in the rise of Asia’s film industry over the decades, but accomplished far more than the average Joe with his colossal amount of achievements.
Born to a textile merchant in the city of Ningbo, Shaw was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth since an impressionable age. But that well of wealth, as tempting to some as it may be, didn’t deter him from leaving the golden nest in search of a future that wasn’t just hemmed in cloth.
In 1927, he and his brother Runme Shaw moved to Singapore in hopes of establishing a film company that would later be known as Shaw Organisation. The company saw a business boom in the island after the opening of a chain of cinemas — including the historic cineplex along Beach Road. Disrupted by the events of World War II, the Shaw theatres were shut down. Luckily, the brothers buried some $4 million of gems and gold in their backyard prior and reclaimed their business after the war with their “treasure”.
Sir Run Run later moved to Hong Kong — the epicentre of the Chinese film industry — where he, with unbridled gusto, paved the way for the birth of an Asian Hollywood. There, he built Movietown, a sprawling complex which housed the crème de la crème of actors that lived on set. Seen as the man responsible for Hong Kong’s film renaissance, the Shaw Brothers establishment has churned out over 1,000 films since its inception. Let’s also not forget how his studios spread the kung fu genre films like wildfire from the East to West, with movies such as Blade Runner and Five Deadly Venoms. From then on, everything sped up for Sir Run Run. The Shaw Brothers establishment started to churn an average of 40 movies a year.
Despite it all, the grass, however, was not always green on the Shaw turf.
Golden Harvest, a rising player that bagged Bruce Lee, proved to be serious competition for the Shaw establishment with its growing popularity among actors. Facing a power struggle threat, Run Run Shaw diverted his efforts into television where he co-founded Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB). He then grew Hong Kong’s first free-to-air station into a multibillion-dollar empire, reigning over more than 30 different markets. After a 40-year rule, he stepped down in 2011 at 104 years of age.
Run Run Shaw’s career — as wildly illustrious as it may be — forms just the tip of the iceberg to his namesake.
Never once a Scrooge, Shaw was an affable philanthropist that just couldn’t stop with the benevolent deeds. Out of the many, he donated £10 million to establish the Run Run Shaw Institute of Chinese Affairs at Oxford University, US$13 million to the Sichuan Earthquake and a mammoth HK$4.75 billion for education projects in mainland China. In the process, he earned accolades honouring his generosity. If it were any surprise (not that it should be), Run Run Shaw was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974 and was knighted in 1977.
Remembered for his utmost generosity and commanding power over the media industry, it’ll be his humble nature that will leave the most rousing imprint. As recounted by a South China Morning Post journalist, the tycoon lent a hand to a medical team in China that faced impassable terrain by contributing off-road vehicles. This act of kindness was only held to one condition: A demand for zero publicity of his donation.