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Run Run Shaw, father of the kung fu film, dies aged 106

HONG KONG--Run Run Shaw, the billionaire film pioneer hailed as the inventor of the kung fu genre and who launched a media empire that stretched from Hong Kong to Hollywood, died Tuesday at the age of 106.

The colorful mogul, whose flagship Shaw Brothers Studio helped shape Asian cinema in the 20th century and influenced the films of directors such as Quentin Tarantino, passed away at his home in Hong Kong.

Shaw, listed by Forbes as a billionaire, was also a generous philanthropist who was knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth in 1977 for his public service as a long-time backer of the Red Cross.

He co-produced Ridley Scott's 1982 cult hit “Blade Runner,” and his studio's kung fu films became genre-defining — but he famously missed out on signing Bruce Lee following failed talks over remuneration.

Lee instead joined Golden Harvest, a Hong Kong-based production house founded by Shaw's former employee Raymond Chow, which propelled the martial arts icon to international stardom.

Shaw and his older brother Runme first founded a film production house in Shanghai in 1927, before moving in to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Shaw Brothers Studio has since produced around 1,000 titles, including “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and “Five Fingers of Death.”

The studio, which mostly produced Chinese-language films, dominated Hong Kong's “Movie Town,” and bred local directors — some of whom would later reach the top of their industry in Hollywood, such as John Woo.

Hong Kong actor Gordon Liu, who appeared in multiple Shaw films, played the stereotypical Shaw-esque kung fu master Pai Mei in Quentin Tarantino's “Kill Bill: Volume 2.”

Kung fu film fans took to Twitter to pay their respects Tuesday. “Without Run Run Shaw there would be no Quentin Tarantino or Wu Tang Clan,” New York City-based user LenRoQ tweeted.

“RIP Sir Run Run Shaw. Thank you for all those Saturday afternoons of Kung fu,” Victor DeAnda from Philadelphia tweeted.

In 1967 Shaw helped found Hong Kong broadcaster TVB, whose sitcoms, variety shows and soap operas became immensely popular among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, putting the former British colony on the global entertainment map.

Silver screen mega-stars such as Chow Yuen-fat, Tony Leung, Stephen Chow and Andy Lau all had their big breaks on TVB television dramas in the 1980s before switching to movies.

Shaw was born in Ningbo, in Zhejiang province of mainland China, in 1907. He was nicknamed “Uncle Six” as he was the sixth of seven siblings.

He had an affection for Rolls Royce vehicles, and was often pictured accompanied by glamorous actresses at glittering social events.

He was famously reported as saying that he and his brother had buried up to US$4 million in gold, jewelry and cash in their garden before the Japanese invaded Singapore during World War II. “After the war we were still rich,” he said.

Shaw was also the backer of the US$1 million Shaw Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Asia.

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In this undated photo, Hong Kong movie producer Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫) poses with his wife Mona Fong (方逸華) in Hong Kong. Shaw, whose studio popularized the kung fu genre that influenced Quentin Tarantino, died peacefully at age 107 on Tuesday, Jan. 7. (AP)

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