Ray­mond Chow, film pro­ducer be­hind Bruce Lee, dies

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - LOCAL - Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) — Leg­endary Hong Kong film pro­ducer Ray­mond Chow, who in­tro­duced the world to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and even brought the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles to the big screen, has died at age 91.

Hong Kong’ sec­re­tary for com­merce and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, Ed­ward Yau, said in a state­ment Fri­day that Chow “helped nur­ture a pool of Hong Kong tal­ents and brought them to the in­ter­na­tional stage.”

Chow was a jour­nal­ist who be­came a pub­li­cist for Shaw Broth­ers Stu­dios, which churned out hun­dreds of films and pop­u­lar­ized the kung fu genre. Stu­dio founder Run Run Shaw soon moved Chow to the pro­duc­tion side of the busi­ness after Chow com­plained that the movies — made on low bud­gets and short sched­ules — weren’t good enough.

“I said I did not think I could keep my job be­cause the pic­tures were so bad,” Chow told Asi­aweek mag­a­zine in 1983. Frus­trated with Shaw Broth­ers’ as­sem­bly­line ethic, he cre­ated his own pro­duc­tion com­pany, Golden Har­vest, in 1970.

He soon out­ma­neu­vered his gi­gan­tic old em­ployer to grab the ac­tor who would be­come syn­ony­mous with kung fu movies. Chow signed Bruce Lee in 1971 after see­ing him on a Hong Kong tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety show.

“Fac­ing you on the screen, you feel his pres­ence is very strong, very pow­er­ful,” Chow told The Associated Press in 2005.

Golden Har­vest signed Lee to a three-pic­ture deal, with each break­ing all Hong Kong box of­fice records.

Those movies were fol­lowed by “En­ter the Dragon,” the first Chi­nese mar­tial arts film to be pro­duced by a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood stu­dio, Warner Bros. It cost $500,000 and earned $40 mil­lion at the box of­fice. Trag­i­cally, Lee died days be­fore the film’s re­lease in 1973.

Lee’s death left a void for kung fu he­roes in Hong Kong’s film in­dus­try that young per­form­ers were ea­ger to fill. Chow signed one of them, a for­mer stunt­man named Jackie Chan, in 1979.

Chan’s first taste of suc­cess in Hong Kong had come the year be­fore with the film “Drunken Mas­ter.” After sign­ing with Chow, he made a num­ber of in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar Chi­nese-language ac­tion-com­edy movies that made him a su­per­star in Asia.

Chow in­vested plenty of time and ef­fort in­tro­duc­ing Chan to Western au­di­ences. He ar­ranged for Chan to spend time in Los An­ge­les learn­ing English and star in his first English-language film, 1980’s “The Big Brawl,” which flopped. A year later, Chow gave him a mi­nor role along­side top Hol­ly­wood names in “The Can­non­ball Run.” But it was 1995’s “Rum­ble in the Bronx” that cat­a­pulted Chan to world­wide fame. The film was re­leased on 1,700 screens in North Amer­ica and grossed $32.4 mil­lion, be­com­ing the most suc­cess­ful Hong Kong film re­leased in the U.S. Three years later, Chan teamed up with Chris Tucker in 1998’s “Rush Hour,” be­com­ing a Hol­ly­wood A-list ac­tor.

Chan ac­knowl­edged the debt he owed to Chow’s groom­ing.

“Mr. Chow gave me a chance to fol­low my dreams,” he told Va­ri­ety in 2000. “I think to­day that with­out Golden Har­vest, there is no Jackie Chan.”

Golden Har­vest also helped bring to the sil­ver screen an­other set of un­likely mar­tial arts char­ac­ters, the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles, which be­gan as a comic book and then be­came an an­i­mated kids’ TV show with a cult fol­low­ing. In­trigued by the name, Chow agreed to pro­duce a live-ac­tion movie based on the four crime­fight­ing, hu­man-sized tur­tles after Hol­ly­wood re­jected the idea.

The movie about the pizza-eat­ing, surfer-lin­gospout­ing ter­rap­ins named after Re­nais­sance artists be­came a world­wide smash.

Chow said that he made his choice based on a “gut feel­ing.”

“It’s very weird, very unique and very in­ter­est­ing. You have to be unique these days to be a big suc­cess.”

Chow was born in Hong Kong to a na­tion­al­is­tic fa­ther skep­ti­cal of Western in­flu­ences. Fol­low­ing his fa­ther’s wishes, he com­pleted his sec­ondary and univer­sity stud­ies in Shang­hai.

As a jour­nal­ist, Chow worked at English-language news out­lets in Hong Kong, in­clud­ing United Press, which later be­came United Press In­ter­na­tional; The New York Times; and Voice of Amer­ica.

Chow, an avid bridge player, told Forbes in 1990 about the busi­ness les­sons he learned play­ing cards.

“When you are for­tu­nate, you try to take ad­van­tage. And when you get a bad hand, you just try to watch your­self, min­i­mize your losses, so that you don’t get killed.”

Golden Har­vest made its last film in 2003. Chow sold his con­trol­ling stake four years later to a Chi­nese busi­ness­man, who changed the name to Orange Sky Golden Har­vest.


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