Raymond Chow, a giant in the Hong Kong film industry and perennial purveyor of some of cinema’s most important offerings of chopsocky, has died today at the age of 91.
The greatest contribution to the film industry (and, perhaps the world,) of producing giant Chow stems back to his founding of Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest, providing a platform for the rise of Bruce Lee as well as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
Chow was born in British-colonized Hong Kong in 1927, going on to study journalism at St. John’s University in Shanghai. However, he wouldn’t stick with the trade long and subsequently transitioned to work in the film industry as a PR man, starting in 1958 with Shaw Brothers Studios. However, brighter prospects glistened for Chow, who, joined by Leonard Ho Koon-Cheung, founded Golden Harvest in 1970. – The rest is history.
Chow’s studio venture launched with the fantasy actioner, The Angry River in 1971 (in which Chan and Hung made uncredited appearances). However, in October of that year, the studio would release The Big Boss (also known as Fists of Fury), the first of Bruce Lee’s return to Chinese cinema after his tumultuous run in the U.S. as Kato on The Green Hornet and unrealized efforts to star in Kung Fu, the TV series that he helped conceive.
Lee’s martial-arts mastery and innate charisma proved to be crucial elements to the success of The Big Boss, leading to his other Golden Harvest starring efforts with 1972’s The Chinese Connection, 1972’s The Way of the Dragon (featuring Lee’s legendary showdown with Chuck Norris), culminating (and, unfortunately, concluding,) with what may be the most important action film in history, 1973’s Enter the Dragon, directed by Robert Clouse. That film was an international smash that cemented Lee as a global martial arts icon, leaving waves across the world that inspired a widespread enthusiasm for martial arts. Behind the scenes, Chow was known to be the fulcrum on which that legendary, culture-defining run hinged.
Chow’s legacy continued after the 1973 death of megastar Lee, fostering the eventually-global stardom of Jackie Chan, who, years before his U.S. mainstream breakthrough in 1998’s Rush Hour, became a star in Golden Harvest releases such as 1978’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, 1978’s Drunken Master as well as his signature efforts in the 1980s such as the Police Story films. Chow also made a U.S. mainstream action-comedy turn as an executive producer on the 1981 Burt Reynolds vehicle, The Cannonball Run, and its 1984 sequel. Moreover, fans of a certain quartet of Heroes in a Half Shell have Chow to thank, since he was an important figure for the initial cinematic endeavor of 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, on which he served as an executive producer for the important (and still quite good,) first film adaptation and its two direct sequels in 1991 and 1993.
The storied career of Chow took a downslide in 1998 with the death of studio co-founder Ho, along with major financial losses, which forced Golden Harvest to divest from filmmaking and transition to financing and distribution. Consequently, in 2007, he sold the company to Chinese businessman Wu Kebo, who would relaunch the studio as Orange Sky Golden Harvest in 2009. Chow made his industry retirement official with a November 2007 announcement.
R.I.P. Raymond Chow, a legendary visionary who played a crucial part in a cultural watershed.