Born in Ningbo, China in 1907, Shaw began his career in film in 1927 when he moved to Singapore to assist his elder brother Runme with establishing a movie distribution business in Southeast Asia. The brothers would eventually own over 200 cinemas in the region, and became known for acquiring and developing cinemas around the world.
In 1957 Run Run moved to Hong Kong and founded the globally recognised Shaw Brothers Studios, mirroring the Hollywood model and setting up a permanent production site in Clearwater Bay. The company went on to produce over 1,000 films including and The Magnificent Concubine (1962) and The One-Armed Swordsman (1967).
Through the studio, Run Run Shaw is widely credited with inventing the kung fu genre, producing classics such as Five Fingers of Death (1972), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Five Deadly Venoms (1978). Shaw also invested in a number of Western co-productions, perhaps most notably Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).
In the late 1970s, Shaw made what the then BAFTA Vice-President, Sir Richard Attenborough, described as a “substantial donation” to the organisation to help fund its growth and development at 195 Piccadilly. “To mark the Academy’s immense gratitude to him,” said Attenborough, “we have taken the decision to name our small theatre in his honour.” The Run Run Shaw Theatre at BAFTA’s London headquarters still bears his name today.
As recently as 3 December 2013, Shaw was honoured again by BAFTA with a Special Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to cinema. He became not only the oldest ever recipient of a BAFTA, but also the first to be presented with a Special Award in Asia. Amanda Berry, CEO of BAFTA, credited Sir Run Run Shaw with helping “BAFTA grow into the organisation it is today.”