SHAW BROTHERS: RELOADED
by Craig Reid
With over-the-top wire-work and special effects ruining many a current-day kung fu movie, there is nothing like a return to the martial arts movies of old to stir the emotions and bring back the purity of what kung fu has always been about. Over the next five years, audiences and especially kung fu film fans will find ample opportunity to have their emotions stirred. I refer, of course, to the "golden age" of kung fu films, as only Shaw Brothers could produce, classic films at long last returning to the world in all of their heavenly glory. This highly-anticipated event officially began December 5th, 2001, a day that will live in martial arts film history.
On that day, Celestial Pictures Ltd. announced the coming release of the Shaw Brothers film masterpieces, most of which have not been available since their initial theatrical releases. The official distributor in Asia will be Intercontinental Video Limited. A total of 760 gems from this film archive will be made available on DVD and VCD formats, after undergoing a state-of-the-art digitization process to restore each film's sound and image to what we are all foaming at the mouth for: great quality.
Having written hundreds of film synopses and actors' and directors' biographies for Celestial Pictures, I was recently chosen as one of Shaw Brothers film experts. As part of this honor, I have been involved in the restoration process. Through the pages of Kungfumagazine.com and its print magazine "Kungfu Qigong," I will be keeping you up-to-date on the newest releases from this film library, as well as providing you with cool stories about the films, stars and directors.
Celestial's shareholders have already invested over US$100 million for the acquisition of the library, its restoration, and the company's operations. The entire restoration process is expected to take about three years, with specific films being released each month. This strategy will continue over the next five years. William Pfeiffer, CEO of Celestial Pictures, speaking by telephone from the historic Shaw Brothers Studio lot in Clear Water Bay says, "Celestial Pictures is thrilled and honored to launch the Shaw Brothers library in the restored digital format. Modern audiences worldwide will now have a unique opportunity to finally see these masterpieces of Chinese cinema."
To combat video piracy, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hong Kong's film industry, Celestial Pictures has adopted an aggressive strategy of releasing films from the Shaw library on the same day and date across all of the key countries in Asia. Coordinating the simultaneous release of not just a single film but all films in a library of this scale and scope is a massive task, and it is a "first" in the video industry. On December 5th, 2001, Intercontinental Video Limited launched 10 remastered Shaw Brothers titles on DVDs and VCDs, hitting the market in nine Asian territories.
Pfeiffer fervently adds, "This video launch is certainly great news for the worldwide fans of Chinese movies, as most of these films have not been available on video or TV since their original cinema release. But the piracy issue is of the utmost importance. When you look at it in the longer term view as an industry, that is revenues going into the pockets of criminals and not the writers and the filmmakers. Then production values go down and you get a lesser entertainment experience. So to get that point across to those that don't know the implications of buying a pirated product is essential."
The Shaw Brothers Studio was built by Sir Run Run Shaw in 1958. With a studio lot of two million square feet located in Clear Water Bay, Shaw Brothers pushed the Hong Kong film industry to new heights. The Shaw Brothers Studio quickly became a movie empire and South East Asia's most prolific producer of a wide array of films: from renowned martial arts films to historical adventures, from horror fantasies to slapstick romantic comedies, from action thrillers to enchanting musicals and unforgettable period dramas. It also earned worldwide recognition and won numerous international awards. It was largely due to the remarkable success of the Shaw Brothers films that Hong Kong became known as "Hollywood East".
The launch celebration included two very special events. The first was a "Shaw Film Week" program at JP Causeway Bay Cinema where seven well-known films of various genres and from different eras were re-released on the big screen: "The Kingdom And The Beauty", "Come Drink With Me", "The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin", "The Empress Dowager", "The Blood Brothers", "Hong Kong Nocturne" and "Let's Make Laugh."
To honor the truly remarkable achievements of Shaw Brothers and Executive Chairman Sir Run Run Shaw himself, Celestial Pictures next hosted a gala party. Sir Run Run Shaw, Asia's unparalleled movie producer and studio chief, and Lady Mona Shaw were the guests of honor of the evening. "On that night, we paid tribute to the incredible impact that the Shaw Brothers Studio has had on Chinese culture and, indeed, the cinema industry worldwide. To have Sir Run Run Shaw, the creator of, and indeed the creative genius behind, the Shaw kingdom with us here is both a blessing and an incredible honor," Pfeiffer tells.
Special performances of Shaw songs by Karen Mok and Ivy Ling Po, who flew in from Canada for the event, captivated and deeply moved the audience. Many of the key creative talents and celebrities of the Shaw Brothers Studio were also present. They included Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-tai, Ching Li, Liu Yung, Hui Ying-hung, Chiao Chiao, Chin Ping, Ho Meng-hua, Liu Chia-liang and Chu Yuan. Many of these stars shared their fond memories of working at the Shaw Brothers Studio and expressed their gratitude to Sir Run Run. It was an evening of pure golden magic.
At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Cheng Pei-pei and daughter Marsha, an up-and-coming star in Asia, were featured guests. As part of the honor, they attended the first "official" screening of the new 35mm print of "Come Drink With Me." The kick-off at Cannes included big-wig cocktail parties, the red carpet treatment for Pei-pei and of course the fully restored film print exclusively reserved for the Theatre Bunuel. This event was of particular importance because it confirmed once and for all the rumors floating around the world that the Shaw Brothers films were finally coming back.
Pfeiffer finally notes, "We're also striking new 35mm prints for limited theatrical re-releases for festivals with special retrospectives, then on video and our TV channel to be launched worldwide later this year."
That is good news for Lim Cheng-Sim, programmer at the University of California-Los Angeles Film and TV Archives, which is responsible for curating film exhibitions. For years Lim has been working with John Woo trying to put together an ambitious travelling film festival of martial arts classics.
"We want to show 20 film in LA highlighting the genre development from its silent roots in Shanghai through the early '80s," Lim says, adding that the exhibition would then tour nonprofit film museums and festivals in the United States and Canada. "People say they love Hong Kong martial art films, but in truth they haven't really seen them," Lim points out. "Celestial's move is very significant because now it's possible to see them again."
In an exclusive for kungfumagazine.com, Lim reveals the line-up of great films, as well as special appearances by filmmakers who will speak about their involvement in these films. People such as John Woo, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Liu Chia-liang, Gordon Liu, Yuan Woo-ping's brother Yuan Cheung-yan, Quentin Tarantino and the Queen of Kung fu cinema herself, Cheng Pei-pei. Starting with the classic silent films "Red Knight-Errant" (1929) and "Swordswoman of Huangjiang" (1930), they'll be followed up by "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part I" (1949) starring the actor synonymous with the character Kwan Tak-hing, the far-out "Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute, Part I" (1965), the Shaw Brothers masterpieces "Come Drink with Me" (1965), "Golden Swallow" (1968), "The One-Armed Swordsman" (1967), "Vengeance" (1970), "Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan" (1972), "Blood Brothers" (1973), "Killer Clans" (1976), "Executioners from Shaolin" (1977), "36th Chamber of Shaolin" (1978), John Woo's "Last Hurrah for Chivalry" (1978) and "Return to the 36th Chamber" (1980.) Topping it all off will be several important independent films: King Hu's "Dragon Inn" (1968), "Escort over Tiger Hills" (1969), "From the Highway" (1970) and possibly Jet Li's "Shaolin Temple" (1982).
In closing, we are privy to share with you Shaw Brothers martial arts films as they break free of the cobwebs of time to become available on DVD and VCD. Coming are such classics as "Come Drink With Me," directed by King Hu and starring Cheng Pei-pei; "The Heroic Ones," "The Anonymous Heroes" and "The Blood Brothers," all directed by Chang Cheh and starring David Chiang and Ti Lung; "Killer Clans," directed by Chu Yuan and starring Yueh Hua; "The Tea House" and its sequel "Big Brother Cheng," both directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Chen Kuan-tai; "The Magic Blade," directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Ching Li and Lo Lieh; "Clans of Intrigue," directed by Chu Yuan and starring Ti Lung, Nora Miao and Yueh Hua; "Temple of the Red Lotus," directed by Kuei Chih-hung and starring Jimmy Wang Yu; "Death Duel," directed by Chu Yuan and starring Derek Yee; and "Heroes Two," directed by Chang Cheh and starring Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-tai.
You may not have heard of some of these directors and stars, but over time they will grow familiar. You may even discover that you've been watching their films for years, even seen them in Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films, without knowing it. If you don't currently own a DVD player, now is the time to invest, because Shaw Brothers is coming to town.
About Craig Reid:
Craig D. Reid is a writer, martial artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA.