Photo of the Day: The Shaw Brothers and the Birth of Chinese Cinema

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7:00 AM HKT, Tue April 24, 2018 1 mins read

This week’s photo theme is Unsung Heroes of Kung Fu — we’re shouting out lesser-known legends of kung fu cinema to expand your mind beyond Jackie, Jet, and Bruce.

There’s no better way to kick this theme off than with the Shaw Brothers themselves.

The Shaw Brothers are probably the single most important phenomenon in the founding of a Chinese film identity. As the eldest sibling, Runje Shaw did the dual jobs of managing the early studio in Shanghai, and also directing their movies. His younger brothers Runde, Runme, and Run Run handled accounting, distribution, and odd jobs. That was in 1925, when the Shanghai-based studio was still called Tianyi Film Company.

Runje used to run a theatre, but made the jump to film after watching colleagues of his achieve early success with the medium. His first movies were immediate hits — 1925’s A Change of Heart hit big at the box office, and the same year’s Swordswoman Li Feifei is considered the earliest Chinese martial arts film. Runje had a knack for bringing Chinese culture to the silver screen, from imperial costume dramas to traditional myths.

Right before the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, Tianyi Film Company moved equipment and operations to Hong Kong, and Shaw Brothers Studio was born in earnest. The rest is kind of history — Shaw Brothers became the most iconic name in Chinese or Asian cinema anywhere, and built the identity of the classic “kung fu flick” from the ground up. Thank you Shaw Brothers, for your contributions to the genre. Pictured is a spread of characters from the studio’s films.

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