In 1957, when he was nearly 50 years old, Run Run Shaw made a grand bet on his movie dreams. He bought 46 acres of hilly land in a remote part of Hong Kong — paying the British colonial government just 45 cents per square foot because of the poor topography and the Communist threat looming over the border with Mao Tse-tung’s China — and set out to build his dream factory.
By the time Shaw Movietown officially opened in 1961, the mogul had 1,200 actors, directors and other employees on site, many of them living in dormitories. Visitors including Rock Hudson, Peter O’Toole and the Beatles came to see what was billed as “the busiest movie studio in the world” — a facility with 80,000 costumes, 12 soundstages and 16 permanent sets, including Chinese palaces, gardens and not least of all, a reproduction of the Great Wall.
Shaw’s studio, which he ran with his brother, Runme, produced more than 1,000 films over more than five decades. He also co-produced American movies, including Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.”
But his empire went much further, extending to movie theaters, amusement parks, magazines and later a sprawling television operation, TVB, that now produces thousands of hours of programming a year. TVB’s school has become well known for training top Chinese actors and directors, including Chow-Yun Fat and Andy Lau.