Shaw Brother's Studios (Movietown), Clearwater Bay, Hong Kong, July 2019

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HughieD

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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 R's?), managed the precursor to the parent company, The Shaw Organisation. Having branched-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.

Re-grouping 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 the 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 popularizing the Kung-Fu genre of films. The first break-through 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:

48660189563_cdee017b9b_b.jpgShawScope by HughieDW, on Flickr

And a more recent promotion poster:

48660544866_6c0d20c7fd_b.jpgShaw Movies by HughieDW, on Flickr

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 was 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:

48660544941_50afc7ce40_z.jpgrun run shaw by HughieDW, on Flickr

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
This one is the biggie explore from my trip out to HK. 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 and where I managed to set a PIR off so 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. Hence this year one of my objectives was to do a proper job this time around. This time I met up with non-forum member 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, this has to be up there as one of my favourite explores of all time.

3. The Photos

Front of the complex:

44229266515_8c3ba3147e_b.jpgShaws 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Building No.1
This place was very damp and packed full of stuff over multiple floors.

48629270446_2b63898bf0_b.jpgimg2301 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48631164436_b5da506f22_b.jpgShaw's Studios 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48631308767_e16f2c6342_b.jpgShaw's Studios 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628952766_80557a6d40_b.jpgimg2257 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628951411_95bc1d906b_b.jpgimg2258 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628950346_4e0ba1b53a_b.jpgimg2261 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48631162611_be7aae9265_b.jpgShaw's Studios 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Baby’s got a gun:

48629102447_27b1388ab9_b.jpgimg2264 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628947371_015f4103b4_b.jpgimg2271 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48630806133_d3f2ece49d_b.jpgShaw's Studios 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48631161851_be9a753b41_b.jpgShaw's Studios 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628591603_8a116335a8_b.jpgimg2285 by HughieDW, on Flickr

“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:

48628590568_1f067e687a_b.jpgimg2286 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Another floor up and the have a:

48629095752_aca48d6898_b.jpgimg2288 by HughieDW, on Flickr

…now slowly falling apart:

48628587948_a885367705_b.jpgimg2290 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And the projectors:

48628586608_390916e834_b.jpgimg2291 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48629091792_34a13a80d1_b.jpgimg2293 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48628937201_7cdba827c8_b.jpgimg2295 by HughieDW, on Flickr

This room looked like some sort of film washing facility:

img2296 by HughieDW, on Flickr

This beast of a projector was at ground level:

45092064362_a92f7ed93e_b.jpgShaws 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48630805068_fb9e9056fd_b.jpgShaw's Studios 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

44419837344_e205e03cec_b.jpgShaws 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

30202939557_bab53d19e0_b.jpgShaws 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

43327532960_f0871c218f_b.jpgShaws 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Building No. 2:

43327522790_86028d906a_b.jpgShaws 02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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:

48628916113_693d3f5fbe_b.jpgimg2299 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48632533103_e0674e7941_b.jpgShaw's Studios 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And some archiving space:

48629421417_8eebbb1180_b.jpgimg2303 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48629420877_bdf258733e_b.jpgimg2304 by HughieDW, on Flickr

More film promo stuff:

48632529848_7f2ccc9198_b.jpgShaw's Studios 19 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48632529438_6deaef623a_b.jpgShaw's Studios 20 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The amount of film canisters here was staggering:

48628911618_4d3af7702c_b.jpgimg2305 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48629302131_e4a57dfb21_b.jpgimg2307 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48629417877_259ee6e2e6_b.jpgimg2308 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48629417127_1f06370fb2_b.jpgimg2309 by HughieDW, on Flickr

There was also a large number of documents too:

48629325826_74a574e4f3_b.jpgimg2312 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48632530728_b4404dba1c_b.jpgShaw's Studios 17 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Shaw's Studios 18 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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:

48633022517_d5a1e407d2_b.jpgShaw's Studios 28 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48632526533_1a4cb9db74_b.jpgShaw's Studios 27 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48633025372_4442aaaa72_b.jpgShaw's Studios 21 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628968753_d834f4d474_b.jpgimg2321 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628967663_c2749ac7f9_b.jpgimg2324 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48629474517_76ff54fe93_b.jpgimg2325 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48628964968_3bdcf58a9b_b.jpgimg2326 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48632883946_a53fcd181f_b.jpgShaw's Studios 25 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48631078917_672d7dd945_b.jpgimg2328 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48630930316_b7c2af6f6f_b.jpgimg2329 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And then there was the studio lights:

48630926956_0f140f1bbf_b.jpgimg2333 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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:

48631073162_41e8feca00_b.jpgimg2335 by HughieDW, on Flickr

A Westrex ST-510 Rerecorder:

48630567913_c14424d4ef_b.jpgimg2336 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48630920091_8b28055aeb_b.jpgimg2340 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

48630917736_f79ac8bbbf_b.jpgimg2341 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The distinctive “SB” logo:

48631206822_1a4bb45793_b.jpgimg2349 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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:

48630703163_e84c39c184_b.jpgimg2352 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48631054586_ba204f9ac3_b.jpgimg2355 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48632524208_d7bb53d460_b.jpgShaw's Studios 32 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48631056181_38c48750f3_b.jpgimg2354 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And finally, a few pictures from my first visit.

This was the actors and staff accommodation:

36110191094_69ccc480c7_b.jpgimg1734 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Back of one of the filming studios:

36758330066_42d077232e_b.jpgimg1724 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The old TVB building:

36756344316_47457c2b05_b.jpgimg1731 by HughieDW, on Flickr

36943898215_0e864f9e07_b.jpgimg1730 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And an old security guard post:

36804419031_e38a8ee24b_b.jpgimg1719 by HughieDW, on Flickr

36773029142_1db650eef0_b.jpgimg1717 by HughieDW, on Flickr

36110078474_c403bcda5e_b.jpgIMG1712 by HughieDW, on Flickr
 
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Sabtr

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I'm stunned by all of that. There will be a lot of film fanatics drooling over those images. Has to be one of those places you never thought would still exist. One thing though - Fishermans Friend cough sweets with magazines. Quite random that!
Literally blown away by that report. Thanks for posting.
 

BikinGlynn

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Wow Hughie that is brilliant stuff, looks insane! Well reported as usual!
 

brickworx

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Oh man, I love Shaw Bros movies, they made so many I reckon everyone on the planet must have seen one at least once :)

This is amazing to see, so cool and a real geek out treat for me - thanks very much for sharing this, nice one!
 

Echo Seven

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I'd give one of my limbs for a day in that place, fantastic write up and shots. Your post lead me to spend a few hours reading up on the history of the Show Brothers.

Cheers
 

Dirus_Strictus

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It is so nice when a report/write-up is so good that it makes one delve deeper into the subject. In my case it took me back to times spent in Hong Kong many, many years ago!
 

HughieD

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Oh man, I love Shaw Bros movies, they made so many I reckon everyone on the planet must have seen one at least once :)

This is amazing to see, so cool and a real geek out treat for me - thanks very much for sharing this, nice one!

Absolutely incredible! Thanks for this epic read.

I'd give one of my limbs for a day in that place, fantastic write up and shots. Your post lead me to spend a few hours reading up on the history of the Show Brothers.

Cheers

Cheers folks. Glad you liked the report. And you know what, this was just the tip of the iceberg at this place!
 

HughieD

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It is so nice when a report/write-up is so good that it makes one delve deeper into the subject. In my case it took me back to times spent in Hong Kong many, many years ago!

Cheers Dirus. There's quite a bit about this place up there on the web, not surprisingly.
 

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