Thursday, January 16, 2014


By Mansor Puteh

Here are some interesting issues and questions and concerns that can be asked of the Shaw Brothers - Runme and Run Run Shaw and their Malay Film Productions studios in 8 Jalan Ampas, in Singapore, and what they had done post-MFP and in Hong Kong, compared to what they had done in Singapore earlier.

They may not have known what they might have done, but it is up to the present analysts to do some searching and analyzing in an academic way.

Could Singapore then have become what it was then and after they left? And could also Hong Kong then become what it was then and is today?

The two Shaw Brothers, Runme and Run Run Shaw chose to leave Singapore after amassing immense wealth from their film production activities to establish the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong and to turn Hong Kong into the most important Chinese cultural center in the region and the world.

He could have chosen to remain in Singapore and allowed Singapore to become the Cultural leader of the Chinese in the world and entrusting many Chinese talents to become better known film actors and directors, except that Singapore then had a policy of not encouraging the Chinese to speak in the dialect, and only Mandarin or English, while all the films Shaws’ produced in Hong Kong were in Cantonese which is the dialect of the majority in Hong Kong then.  

And after successfully promoting ‘muhibbah’ or unity of the people of all races in Tanah Melayu or Malaya, by producing Melayu films, Shaw Brothers chose to fashion themselves as the champion of the Chinese culture and race instead.

While the Melayu especially in Malaysia can be thankful to the Shaw Brothers for helping to establish the Old Melayu Cinema, yet, at the same time, some can feel a tinge of sadness that they had neglected the generation of Melayu artistes who did not benefit from them having closed down their studios and leaving Singapore to go to Hong Kong.

The Shaw Brothers are said to have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes and disaster victims around the region, but the problems with the artistes who had served their studios in Jalan Ampas have still not been resolved.

The truth which no one had bothered to mention or highlight is the fact that these artistes and the entertainment writers in Malaysia had given new life to the old films for which the Shaw Brothers and their company had continued to benefit immensely from the royalties they could still get from the screening of their films on television in Malaysia.

When earlier, these films were frowned upon and were not prized.

Some of them suddenly became priceless gems, when P. Ramlee died, which helped to inflate the value of these film in the eyes of the Melayu.

If not for them, these films would not have been given the new life and they would be banished into the memories of the Melayu.

It was also fortunate for Shaw Brothers and their old Melayu films that the Malaysian Cinema that the government had tried to recreate in the early 1980s had failed.

So there is still a fascination of the old films.

The situation can be seen in the way many of the old films produced in Hong Kong today which have been forgotten despite them having become hits when they were first released in the country and also in Malaysia and Singapore starring Lin Dai and Li Li Hua and some others including Wang Wu, Bruce Lee and Alexander Fu Sheng from the later years.

The problem these films faced is that the cinema in Hong Kong continued to develop and not many people are interested to look back at their past achievements, compared to the Melayu in Malaysia who do not have a new generation of directors and actors who were able to create better films amongst themselves, so much so that they have to feel proud with the achievements of the past generation of filmmakers.

Maybe it is propaganda which had caused the old Melayu films to be given the respect and admiration they are still getting today.

And once if the New Malaysian Cinema is established and the film industry becomes active, then surely, the fate of the old Melayu films can horrifying to guess with them being sent to the archives or museums.  

Even today, many of the surviving Jalan Ampas artistes have not gained anything at all from the films that they had helped to create for the Shaw Brothers.

They do not enjoy getting royalties from the continued screening of the films on Malaysian television.

But nothing can be worse, when one looks at how the impact on the development of the Chinese or Hong Kong Cinema had on the Chinese in Malaysia.

And barely a few years after the collapse of the Old Melayu Cinema then based in Singapore, the 13 May, 1969 Incident happened.

Many young Chinese were drawn to the history of their race, with the continued production and screening of films that deal with it in the cinemas in Malaysia and also Singapore, so much so that the philosophy and attitude and social and cultural as well as political make-up of the Chinese in Malaysia were greatly affected.

The early kungfu films produced by the Shaw Brothers’ studios and the other studios in Hong Kong could very well be one of the reasons for the outbreak of the racial riots in 1969.

But it could also not be their fault, as Singapore was expelled from the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, and the continued existence of the Old Melayu Cinema in Singapore could be seen as an oddity.

It was asked to be relocated to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where it later died.

But the impact of the creation and development of the New Hong Kong Cinema by the two Shaw Brothers can be said to be startling.

Hong Kong had a cinema before they established their studios, but the films they produced were not acceptable by the Chinese outside of the country, especially in Malaysia then.

The Shaw Brothers had a virtual monopoly of the cinemas since they owned the largest chain in Malaysia and Singapore, which ensured that only their films were shown and not those produced by the other studios especially those in Hong Kong.

It was only when they produced Chinese films in Hong Kong that these films were able to be distributed in Malaysia, which became an instant hit even amongst the Melayu.

The Chinese looked at the films differently than the Melayu; with the Chinese feeling proud of their ancestry and ancient history, but the Melayu saw it differently when they felt threatened by the images that were created and shown.

The films promoted Chinese pride and chauvinism amongst the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore, a feeling that they had not experienced before, when they thought their lot was in Tanah Melayu living comfortably with the Melayu, without any one of them feeling threatened.

But their feelings and emotions were soon disturbed by the incessant showing of images of ancient China and what they could mean to them, especially the younger generation of Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore who never knew the hardship that their ancestors had to face which forced them to leave South China to come in droves to Tanah Melayu and the other countries in Nanyang or South Seas Lands or Nusantara Melayu or Southeast Asia.

* * * * * * *

Runme Shaw died in 1989, his younger brother, Run Run Shaw, died few days ago in Hong Kong at the age of 107.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid a tribute to him by saying how his country would always remember him.

One does not know exactly what he had meant by saying that.

Runme and Run Run Shaw established the Malay Film Productions studios (MFP) on 8 Jalan Ampas in Singapore in 1933 and created the Old Malayan Cinema.

Their friendly rival, Cathay-Keris Studios on East Coast Road also had similar setups, with their studios there and a chain of cinemas where Shaw’s had theirs with some independent film companies established by the Melayu producers and businessmen.

Both these studios churned out Melayu films until they closed down when Singapore was expelled from the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, with them operating for just a while before they closed down permanently.

The Melayu film industry then moved to Hulu Kelang in Selangor with the establishment of the Merdeka Film Studios in Hulu Kelang outside of Kuala Lumpur, while Cathay-Keris experienced its demise.

Both the Shaw Brothers and Cathay moved their base to Hong Kong, with Shaw’s opening their studios at Clearance Bay and later setting up the TVB television station, while producing Chinese films in Cantonese for the Chinese market in Hong Kong and the other countries where they were many Chinese especially in Malaysia and Singapore.

Merdeka Studios did not manage to produce interesting films, and soon it also faced hard times with dwindling support from the Melayu viewers, with their film stars and directors who had come from Singapore not taking with them the eagerness that they had shown while at Jalan Ampas.

Hindustani and American films started to be imported into the country that took away the attention of the Melayu viewers.

The last film the studios produced as ‘Laksamana Do Re Me…’ which was a faint reflection of the type of films Jalan Ampas was producing.

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