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Hong Kong Shaw Brothers film studios, Hong Kong, July 2019

Hughie

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1. The History
In 1925, three Shaw brothers (Runje, Runme, and Runde) founded the Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai. They also established a film-distribution base in Singapore, where Runme and the youngest brother, Run Run (did the parents like Rs?), managed the precursor to the parent company, Shaw Organisation. Having branch out into Malaysia, building new cinemas and operating a mobile cinema in rural areas, in 1933 they produced the Cantonese opera film ‘Normal Dragon’ which proved a break-through for them in both Singapore and Hong Kong. By 1939, they had an empire of 139 cinemas across south-east Asia, but the war saw the Japanese invade Singapore and seize most of Shaw’s assets.

Regrouping after the war, they again expanded into more cinemas and increased film production. Runme and Run Run then took over the film production business of its Hong Kong-based sister company, Shaw & Sons Ltd, and in 1957, a new company, "Shaw Brothers," was set up and a new studio built at Clearwater Bay. It officially opened in 1961 as "Movietown". Employing 1,500 people, at its height, it was the largest privately-owned studio in the world, boasting over twenty separate building over its 46-acre site, including residential buildings for actors and crew as well as private homes. Sir Run Run Shaw was pivotal in the studio’s success, having previously identified the potential of the market in HK that was dominated by foreign films and unattractive local productions. He was the key contributing figure to the 'Golden Era' of Hong Kong cinema

Over the years the film company produced some 800 plus films. Some went on to be the most popular and significant Chinese-language films of the period, including popularized the Kung-Fu genre of films. The first breakthrough film was ‘The Kingdom and the Beauty’ (1958), which enjoyed global success. The most famous releases to come out of the studios included 1962’s ‘The Magnificent Concubine’ and kung-fu battle-epic ‘36th Chamber of Shaolin’ in 1978. The studio did have a reputation for “churning them out” with many of its films considered to be instantly forgettable. Some likened its operations to Hollywood studios in the early 20th Century where autocratic execs churned out films for commercial gain with little regard for artistic merit. Films were frequently shot without sound and then dubbed into the language required in one of its 12 sound studios. The place wasn’t always the best working environment for its actors, who were often subject to tight schedules and high levels of pressure and stress. Shaw Brothers were rocked in 1962 by the suicide of their top actresses, the 29-year old Linda Lin Dai.

An early Shaw Brother logo:



And a more recent promotion poster:



Shaw Brothers continued to diversify with the launch of their own TV station, TVB, in 1973. By the mid-seventies their empire boasted 230 cinemas and with another 600 cinemas on a distribution deal it is estimated that every week, over 1.5 million people saw a Shaw produced movie. However, in the early 1980s the 'Golden Era’ started to fade and in 1987, the company suspended film production in order to concentrate on the television industry through its subsidiary TVB. The last film from the site came out in 2003, although film production resumed, albeit in limited capacity, in 2009. In 2011 Shaw Brothers was reorganized into the Clear Water Bay Land Company Limited and its film production business were taken over by other companies within the Shaw conglomerate.

The studios situated on Clearwater Bay Road and Ngan Ying Road now sit empty, along with the former TVB headquarters (occupied 1986–2003) and the apartment blocks used to house Shaw actors. Next to them is the newer and still-in-use Shaw House and Shaw Villa. A new Shaw Studios was been built at Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate which opened in 2006. Negotiations have taken place between the landowners and the Town Planning Board who have been struggling to decide on what to do with the site. In late 2014, there was a decision to completely demolish the former studios and build housing and commercial properties. This was blocked by the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) who listed Movietown as a Grade 1 Historical Site, requiring certain buildings to be retained in their original state. It was also the year that Run Run Shaw passed away, aged 106:



The great man may have departed this world but his legacy lives on. I’ll leave the last words for Quentin Tarantino: “For a year, I’d watch one old Shaw Brothers movie a day, if not three.”

2. The Explore
So where to start with this epic place? I first came across this location randomly, while being driven back to Kowloon from Sai Kung by a friend. I had a poke around the private road round the back where the former ATV studios are where I managed to set a PIR off and that was that. The following year I set off to visit the site in possession of a bit more information of how to get in and what to see. I got inside the complex but nearly bumped into the security guard. That and the fact I was solo led to me chickening-out, so I bailed having done the hard bit of getting on site. Hence this year one of my objectives was to do a proper job this time around. This time I met up with Dr Howser who is something of an expert on this amazing location and am very grateful for him showing me round.

We met outside on a day the No.3 Typhoon signal was hoisted, and it was chucking it down. We got into the complex easily enough and looked round five buildings in total. This left many buildings unexplored including the large production studios – the reasons being the torrential rain and us spotting staff on site in these areas. Despite only looking at a fraction of the site has to be up there as one of my favourite explores of all time.

The good Dr House has subsequently informed me that they have now cleared the buildings we looked round, sadly.

3. The Photos

Front of the complex:



Building No.1:

This place was very damp and packed full of stuff over multiple floors.





The first few rooms we went in were packed with old film canisters and spare parts and bulbs for projectors:











Baby’s got a gun:





A floor or two up and there’s a lot of machines for processing film:







“Yellowthread Street” was a 13-episode series screened on Yorkshire TV in 1990 where a Hong Kong police detective Chief Insp. Alex Vale (played by Ray Lonnen) goes undercover to investigate and infiltrate a drug kingpin by acting as a buyer to purchase some of his highest priced product:



Another floor up and the have a:



…now slowly falling apart:



And the projectors:





On the same floor is this room stacked full of moldering film canisters. The smell of celluloid from here was intense:



This room looked like some sort of film washing facility:



This beast of a projector was at ground level:











Building No. 2:



This was in much better condition with far less water ingress. Although far less photogenic, this place looked a lot newer and has some seriously expensive gear in, including this computer-controlled Oxberry Cinescan digital scanner that clocks in at up-wards of $200,000:



The upper floors were used for storage. This second last floor had a number of props in:



And some archiving space:



The highest floor was pack full of stuff. Here’s some promo material for the 1992 movie Swordsman II that starred Jet Li:



More film promo stuff:





The amount of film canisters here was staggering:







Although it looks like some of the films had been removed:



There was also a large number of documents too:







Building No. 3:

The smallest of the five places week looked at, at only a couple of floors. It has some of the most ‘interesting’ stuff in too:

















These rooms were used for hand-painting effects on film:





And then there was the studio lights:



Building No. 4:

This was perhaps in the worst condition of them all. Roof collapses, water ingress and loads of interesting stuff.

This was a specialist sound studio:



A Westrex ST-510 Rerecorder:





Tapes for 1977’s Brave Archer kung-fu movie:



The distinctive “SB” logo:



Building No.5:

This is the iconic front building. This is probably the best condition of the five we looked at. Manly empty, it had this small preview cinema which was in very good condition:









And finally, a few pictures from my first visit.

This was the actors and staff accommodation:



Back of one of the filming studios:



The old TVB building:





And an old security guard post:







那是所有的人 !!!
 
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Hughie

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Some lovely relics left in there
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Weather was terrible and there was activity over at the other part so didn't get round it. It's apparently all been cleared now...
 

Dubbed Navigator

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Love this place, think it was this that @The_Raw covered pretty extensively too.

Noticed this bit of paperwork too;

1615497766701.png


Only months before HK was handed over to China.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy and detailed report.
 

The_Raw

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One of my favourite explores as well @Hughie. I should probably do another report as I saw so much more on my second visit. The props department was worthy of a report of its own! Good to see you on here by the way 👊
 

Hughie

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wow fasinating explore ... so much for you to see , lovely photos :)
Cheers JD. Much appreciated!
Love this place, think it was this that @The_Raw covered pretty extensively too.

Noticed this bit of paperwork too;

View attachment 102055

Only months before HK was handed over to China.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy and detailed report.
My pleasure. Yes, @The_Raw has been too and seen even more of this amazing place.
One of my favourite explores as well @Hughie. I should probably do another report as I saw so much more on my second visit. The props department was worthy of a report of its own! Good to see you on here by the way 👊
Nowhere quite like it. Deffo get a report on your second visit up. Didn't even get onto the props dept.

And yes, long overdue as OS is a great site!
 
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