The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study - Preface
'Shaw' is a wondrous name indeed as every generation could fondly recall their own Shaw days. In my parents' days, it was not unusual for young mothers to take their children for a movie treat-as hardworking breadwinner, fathers were usually too busy for the cinema-and it was a bargain too, a ticket would allow in two kids. I was one of those kids. Holding my mother's hand, many a day were thus spent in the Sky Theatre nearby, consuming quite a number of Shaw productions. As I remember, we seldom watched black and white films, instead preferring to be awed by the larger-than-life Shaw Scope productions, and the sensuous delight, grandeur and glamour didn't puff away with the light, but was carefully taken home to be relived again and again in the lazy afternoons, until the next 'treat'. Back in those days, the day Southern Screen hit the news-stand was an eagerly awaited monthly event. With no hindering of the Film Classification System, I was able to see One-Armed Swordsman/Du Bi Dao (1967) with my elder brother. A friend recounted a quite different Shaw experience: watching 'erotica' directed by Lui Kay/Lü Qi with his schoolmates, without their parents' knowledge, of course. For friends in their thirties, the cinema did not feature in their Shaw memory, but endless nights of watching videos, produced overseas and mostly martial arts films dubbed in English. As for those in their twenties, they may have been too young for the heyday of Shaws, yet they would certainly have heard about the legends of the studio. And, though not familiar with the 'Simply the Best' Shaw productions, they surely would recognise the Sir Run Run Shaw who presides in the annual Miss Hong Kong Pageant.
Shaws is of course far from being history, yet its role so far already deserves our careful studies. Subject of our historical study is far from random but guided by some basic criteria, such as time span in which significant changes and development have taken place, and with adequate referential materials available. Moreover, a distance of time needs to exist between the subject and the researchers in order to maintain an objective observation and unbiased criticism. In these respects, Shaw cinema meets our conditions for historical study. After all, it is and organization that boasts more than 70 years of eventful history. In 2001, the first Conference on the Shaw Brothers Enterprise was held in the National University of Singapore. The host last year was the Hong Kong Baptist University, and the conference will move to the University of Illinois in North America this year. According to Cheuk Pak-tong of Baptist University, compilation of papers delivered in the first and second conferences will soon be ready for publication. With the re-release of the Shaw library in digitalised version, Shaws will be a focus of local cinema study for a long time to come.
Last year, the Hong Kong Film Archive published The Cathay Story to complement the Back to Dreamland: Cathay Showcase & Retrospective programme. This year, we again offer The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study to accompany Shaws on Screen as a primer for the studio's work. The Shaw family and their movie empire, spanning the better part of a century, not only asserted a great influence on local cinema, but also played a significant role in Chinese cinema. It is only imperative that we choose a modest book title as it is. Key directors Li Han-hsiang/ Li Hanxiang and Chang cheh/Zhang Che, in particular, are subjects of quite a few chapters, some focus on their specialised genre and some on their unique style. While not all are unqualified praises, even criticisms are well supported by arguments. However, as available Shaw films are far from complete, researchers most of the time had to make do with 'shaky, fuzzy and hazy' video copies, and their judgments may sometimes not be based on as firm a ground as wished. The limitations, though, are common to current Shaw studies, which we only hope can be redressed by the re-release of digitalised Shaw films, including the early black and white productions.
Whether in editing The Cathay Story or this Shaw book, we tried to follow two principles: primo, providing researchers with the most accurate background materials as we can; and secondo, maintaining an open forum for studies, with no restrictions on their types, forms or subjects, and least of all insisting on hagiographies. We do not claim to have found the perfect balance for such an endeavour, knowing very well that there is still much room for improvement. Last but not least, our most grateful thanks to each and everyone who has contributed to the book. Our very best wishes to you all, especially in a time when peace is no longer to be taken for granted.
17 March 2003