SIR Run Run Shaw, who died on Tuesday at age 107, is perhaps best remembered as the Hong Kong movie and TV mogul who popularised kung fu.
However, older Malaysians will remember “Shaw” as the name behind our early cinema days.
I recall in the late 1940s and 1950s, the well-known Empire cinema, located along Sentul Road, which was always full irrespective whether the film was in English, Tamil, Hindi, Chinese or Malay.
The new cowboy films and “fighting films”, as we used to call them, were great hits with children and youngsters. We would go for the earlier “matinee” screenings with cheaper tickets.
After what seemed an endless series of trailers of coming films to be screened in the following weeks, the movie of the day was always introduced with the Shaw Brothers’ shield-shaped logo with rays radiating from the central initials “SB”.
Invariably, the audience would break into a spontaneous cheer and applause and, yes, whistles too – as the long-awaited film was about to begin.
The seats were wooden or rattan, depending on the “class” of the ticket purchased, but that never bothered us as everyone appeared mesmerized by the content, screenplay and the effects to the very end.
It was from parents, neighbours, friends and teachers that we heard stories about Run Run Shaw.
He came, with his older brother Runme, from China to Singapore in the 1920s to market films to southeast Asia’s Chinese community and eventually opened more than 100 cinema halls in Singapore, Malaya and across the region.
Initially, we were told, he and other workers carried film reels by bicycle to various locations in the country.
Communities in and around estates, mines, timber camps and rural areas made enthusiastic audiences as these films provided them great entertainment.
From his Singapore base, Shaw moved to Hong Kong in the late 1950s, shifting his focus from exhibiting films to producing them.
Shaw became a legend as a film-producer, philanthropist and benefactor. But, more than the many iconic British, Hollywood, Indian and Chinese movies that Shaw brought to our silver screens, Malaysia should perhaps best remember his most important contribution in providing a launch pad for Malay films.
These Malay films were a collaborative effort by people of different races. The investors to produce the films were Chinese, the directors were mostly Indian, among them our well-known Tan Sri L. Krishnan, while the actors and actresses were Malay.
It was one of Shaw’s directors, B.S Rajhans, who introduced a young Malay as a playback singer in the late 1940s film, “Cinta”. That singer eventually became our most famous actor, singer and director, Tan Sri P. Ramlee, who made dozens of films for Shaw’s company, Shaw Productions.
Some of our other film personalities who gained prominence through Shaw Productions included Saloma, Siput Sarawak and Kasma Booty.
Many of the later Shaw Productions movies were made at their film studio established in 1961 in Ulu Kelang, called Merdeka Filem Studio. The studio was later purchased by the National Film Development Corporation.
Another unique contribution to entertainment, in those days, that Shaw made were the famous amusement “parks” established across the region.
This includes Bukit Bintang Park in Kuala Lumpur, New World in Penang and Jubilee Park in Perak.
Interestingly, over the years, when I was based in Europe and in the US, it was intriguing to see a film produced by Shaw.
Among them are The Magnificent and Concubine, The One-Armed Swordsman and Blade Runner.
Whenever I come across billboards promoting Shaw’s movies overseas. I would tell the person next to me: “That’s by Shaw. He is a part of my country - brought us the earliest movies I saw and also helped make our first Malay films.”