When entertainment mogul and philanthropist Sir Run Run Shawdied Jan. 7 at the age of 107, he left behind an enormous legacy: though perhaps best known outside his native Hong Kong as a producer of Ridley Scott’sBlade Runner, Shaw effectively helped introduce the world to martial arts cinema through Shaw Studios, and collaborated on some of the greatest films the genre has ever seen.
Looking at Shaw’s more than 300 credits as a producer alone, it seems impossible to know where to start when examining his body of work. But there are several titles that have since become truly iconic entries in the genre that offer a great introduction both to his work and to martial arts cinema as a whole.
36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978):
Also known as The Master Killer and Shaolin Master Killer (as almost all of the Shaw Brothers films were renamed multiple times for international audiences), director Liu Chia-Liang’s 1978 film is widely considered to be one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time. Starring the baby-faced Gordon Liu, who went on to play Pai Mei in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2, the film offers a fictionalized portrait of legendary martial artist San Te, and features training montages that have since become a staple of the genre.
Directed by Lau Kar-Leung, this is one of Shaw’s many films that focuses on a specific fighting style, filtered through the story of a petty thief who helps a crippled martial arts master take revenge on the gangster who killed, you guessed it, his monkey. As much a comedy as a serious martial arts film, MadMonkey Kung Fu features terrific choreography and breathtaking fight sequences.
Also known as Five Fingers of Death, King Boxer was a watershed film during the explosion of martial arts cinema on the international market when it was released in 1972. In addition to inspiring Tarantino to use the siren-like score of Ironside in both Kill Bill films, director Chang-hwa Chung tells the story of a promising young martial arts student who finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue after entering a fighting competition. Although this film is comparatively simpler in its execution than those listed above, it has become hugely influential and beloved by fans of the genre for its bold and evocative use of themes that have since become staples of martial-arts storytelling.