Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫, pinyin: Shào Yìfū), Hong Kong's preeminent TV and movie mogul, last month announced his retirement after eight decades in the entertainment business. Retirement in this case means stepping back from his executive role, although he will continue to retain the honourary title of company chairman. The decision was first announced in October, but became official at TVB's 42nd Anniversary Gala a few weeks ago.
However, Shaw's retreat from public life has proved short-lived. On November 26, it was announced that the grand old name of Hong Kong movie production houses, Shaw Studios, would crank out films again after a long absence. Three films are already in production, with the first of them, Seventy Two Tenants of Prosperity due to be released in time for next year's Spring Festival.
Shaw, affectionately known as Luk Suk or Sixth Uncle, was born in either 1906 or 1907, possibly October or November - no one seems to be clear on the exact details. In any case it makes him at least a sprightly 101 years old. He was born just outside Shanghai and entered the nascent film business back in 1924 - that's back in the era of silent movies. He and his brothers built up a film distribution and exhibition business with operations on both sides of the Pacific. Eventually Shaw settled in Hong Kong in 1959 and established Shaw Brothers Productions. By the 1970s the company had become the largest privately owned studio in the world churning out around 40 films a year.
Although Shaw Studios produced films across a variety of genres, it was best known for martial arts films, including classics such as The One Armed Swordsman, The Five Fingers of Death, Come Drink With Me and Vengeance. That era is still considered a golden age of Hong Kong cinema. As the movie industry changed and the big movie studios lost their power and dominance, Sir Run Run Shaw shifted his company's focus to the television side of operations with TVB, the television studio he had established in 1967. Today TVB is one of the largest television producers in the world, and Shaw presides over a media empire valued at around US$3.5 billion.
Shaw is also famous for his philanthropy, bequeathing millions to hospitals, educational institutions and the arts, not just in Hong Kong but in greater China and beyond. In 2002 he established the Shaw Prize which awards one million dollars each for research in three science categories: astronomy, life sciences and mathematics.
In recent years Sir Run Run Shaw's health has deteriorated, reducing his role in the day-to-day running of the business. A large proportion of executive control is said to be in the hands of his wife, the 76 year old but still formidable Mona Fong, who holds the title of Managing Director. Nevertheless, Sir Run Run's appearance at last month's TVB Gala Awards where he was one of the presenters, followed by his announcement he was back in the movie-making business, shows he retains to a surprising degree his trademark energy and passion for hard work.