This week’s photo theme is Unsung Heroes of Kung Fu — we’re shouting out lesser-known legends of kung fu cinema to expand your mind beyond Jackie, Jet, and Bruce.
We started this week’s series the only way we knew how: with the Shaw Brothers. They’re the ones who got the ball rolling in Hong Kong, carving out a substantial Chinese film identity for the first time. But by the end of the ’70s, a new studio had emerged as top dog in Hong Kong. Today’s photo is from this iconic opening sequence.
Golden Harvest was founded by Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, two executives from Shaw Brothers who left the company in 1970 to form their own studio. They took a different approach, working frequently with independent producers rather than keeping everything in-house, and offering actors higher pay and greater creative freedom. There were a few defectors from Shaw Brothers, but Golden Harvest’s big win was about to happen in 1971, when they inked a deal with Bruce Lee for The Big Boss. It was Bruce’s first starring role, after he’d turned down the standard contract offered by the Shaws.
Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow
While the Shaw Brothers should be credited as introducing kung fu movies to western audiences, Golden Harvest was the first Hong Kong studio to collaborate directly with Hollywood, producing 1973’s Enter the Dragon as a joint effort with Warner Bros. That was the first English-language kung fu film, and the last film Bruce Lee made before his sudden death. Since Golden Harvest really picked up speed at the end of the ’70s, they were also just in time to snag a young Jackie Chan, after his popularity exploded in 1978’s Drunken Master. Until rather recently, Golden Harvest had been behind nearly all of Jackie’s films, not to mention padding their portfolio with other A-listers like Jet Li and Donnie Yen.
If Shaw Brothers were the ones to first crystallize the kung fu genre, Golden Harvest really took it international, and gave us a roster of enduring superstars in the process.
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