Zen And The Art Of Run Run Shaw

You may not know his name, but the late Run Run Shaw had an indelible effect on kung fu films. The filmmaker died today at age 107.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Legendary Chinese filmmaker and philanthropist Run Run Shaw died Tuesday at the age of 107.

Before The Matrix, before Big Trouble in Little China, and before the Wu-Tang Clan, there was the Shaw Brothers, the predominant Hong Kong movie house for some 40 years that cranked out more than 280 films. From the late 1950s through the 1990s, Shaw’s movie operation dominated Hong Kong and Chinese cinema generally.

He also cast a long shadow over American cinema, influencing a host of modern directors, including Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowskis.

Classic Shaw Brothers movies — eight of which can be found below — span a mix of epic musicals, psychedelic gore, exploitation, and cutting-edge science fiction.

3. Madame White Snake (1962)

Though predominantly known for their Kung Fu movies, the Shaw Brothers produced a wide variety of films spanning virtually every genre. This 1962 production is a classic example of the company’s epic musical takes on traditional Chinese mythology, and tells the tale of a tragic love affair between a mystical snake and a human man.

4. Come Drink With Me (1966)

While Western movie makers were busy keeping women stuck in stereotypical roles, Hong Kong’s directors were going in an opposite direction, mining Chinese mythology for action heroines and villains. Come Drink With Me is one of the Shaw Brothers’ early films to feature a strong female lead. The movie also has some of the best fight choreography ever, and is a classic example of the Shaws’ ability to mix comedy, drama, and action into one movie.

5. The Crippled Avengers (1978)

If you can envision an exploitation genre, the Shaw Brothers did it. Take The Crippled Avengers, a 1978 classic that features the Deadly Venoms as five disabled Kung Fu masters — one blind, one legless, one without arms, one mentally disabled, and one deaf and mute. Almost certainly offensive by modern standards, The Crippled Avengers remains one of the only cinematic representations of the disabled as action heroes with serious ass-kicking chops.

6. Blade Runner (1982)

Yes, that Blade Runner. Run Run Shaw was a producer on Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction masterpiece. What, you thought Hollywood could come up with this kind of mind blowing amazing without some help from Hong Kong?

7. The One Armed Swordsman (1967)

This early Shaw Brothers epic follows the exploits of a “swashbuckling” one-armed Kung Fu master and is many ways grand-daddy of the Hong Kong Kung Fu genre thanks to its over the top fight scenes and heavy emphasis on themes like honor and loyalty. Much of the Shaw Brothers’ catalogue — and their many imitators — would mirror The One Armed Swordsman’s style.

8. The Boxer’s Omen (1983)

The Shaw Brothers weren’t just about Kung Fu and period pieces. In the late 70s and early 80s HK cinema became obsessed with horror, and the Shaw’s adapted, combining the signature martial arts movie making with over the top psychedelic gore. 1983’s The Boxer’s Omen is a classic of the HK horror genre.

9. The Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

The Five Deadly Venoms is considered to be one of the Shaw Brothers’ greatest movies and is a classic of the team-up style of action movie. The film’s music and dialogue have been heavily sampled by The Wu Tang Clan and other hip-hop artists.

10. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Perhaps the greatest Kung Fu movie ever made, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin perfected the “training” movie subgenre, in which the lead character must endure torturous — and more often than not preposterous — training regiments at the hands of an uncaring master, none of which seems to have anything to do with martial arts. Without The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, there’d never have been a Karate Kid.

The movie is also a great example of the Shaw Brothers’ penchant for adapting Chinese history for the big screen, telling the stories of the nation’s early years through the lens of martial arts and Buddhist or Taoist philosophies.

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