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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Hong Kong classics leap back
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Crouching Tiger revived interest in martial arts films
A long-unseen back catalogue of martial arts movies that have influenced some of Hollywood's biggest directors are to be released.

The films were produced between the 1950s and 1970s by the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong, but have been hidden for many years after it refused to re-release them or to even loan out any prints.


There's a lot of great films and treasures from Shaw Brothers that haven't been seen for over 30 years

John Woo
But the studio has backed down and has sold the rights for HK $600m (50m) to Hong Kong-based Celestial Pictures, which will restore them and release them first into cinemas.

Among those citing the Shaw Brothers as inspirations are Quentin Tarantino and John Woo, who worked as a script supervisor at their studio.

"There's a lot of great films and treasures from Shaw Brothers that haven't been seen for over 30 years," said Woo.

The work of producers Run Run and Run Me Shaw is credited with defining a generation of martial arts films, which are once again popular thanks to the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Tight budgets

Established in 1959, the brothers owned the largest independent studio in the world by 1961.

By producing strong scripts on tight budgets the studio was able to release large numbers of popular films for the Asian market.

But their success was eclipsed by the rival Golden Harvest Group while piracy and corruption sent the Hong Kong film market into decline.

John Woo
John Woo is working on a martial arts film festival
This led to some of the best technical and acting talent leaking out of Hong Kong in search of a stronger industry.

Shaw Brothers had been considering for some time whether to open the vault and restore its back catalogue but eventually decided it would be too costly.

The deal with Celestial will allow a new generation to explore Hong Kong cinema from its heyday.

Martial arts hero

It has the rights to all video, remake, sequel and theatrical production rights.

Among the films which will once again see the light of day are Come Drink With Me and The One-Armed Swordsman - which ignited the careers of martial arts hero Jimmy Wang Yu and one of the biggest female names in the business, Cheng Pei-Pei.

The first film is expected to be ready for cinema and festival release in the autumn, followed by video and television exposure later in the year.

One of the first people hoping to benefit from the news is Lim Chem-Sim, a programmer at the University of California-Los Angeles Film and TV Archives, who is responsible for curating film exhibitions.

He has been working with John Woo to try and put together an exhibition of martial arts classics to tour film museums and festivals across North America.

"People say they love Hong Kong martial art films but in truth they haven't really seen them," Lim said.

"Celestial's move is very significant because now it's possible to see them again."

See also:

30 Apr 01 | Entertainment
02 Sep 01 | Entertainment
15 Nov 01 | Entertainment
07 Jan 02 | Entertainment
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