Tianyi Film Company (Chinese :天一影片公司; pinyin :Tiānyī Yǐngpiān Gōngsī), also called Unique Film Productions, was one of the "big three" film production companies in pre-Second World War Republic of China. Founded in Shanghai in 1925 by the Shaw (Shao) brothers led by Runje Shaw (Shao Zuiweng), the company also established operations in Malaya and Hong Kong. Although the company's Shanghai studio was destroyed in 1937 during the Japanese invasion, its offshoot in Hong Kong, later called Shaw Brothers Studio, blossomed into a media empire under the leadership of the youngest brother, Sir Run Run Shaw.
In 1922, Runje Shaw (Shao Zuiweng), the eldest Shaw brother who had been a lawyer and businessman, was the manager of the theatre Xiao Wutai (Happy Stage or Laughter Stage) in Shanghai. Among his colleagues were Zhang Shichuan, Zheng Zhengqiu, and Zhou Jianyun, who co-founded Mingxing Film Company.In 1923 Mingxing released the film Orphan Rescues Grandfather to great commercial success. Inspired by his former colleagues, Shaw established Tianyi Film Company in 1925. He served as general manager and director, while his younger brothers Runde Shaw (Shao Cunren) and Runme Shaw (Shao Renmei) managed accounting and distribution. The youngest brother, Run Run Shaw (Shao Yifu), did odd jobs for the company.
Tianyi's first film, A Change of Heart (立地成佛), directed by Shao Zuiweng himself and released in 1925, was highly profitable. A shrewd businessman who understood the audiences' preferences, Shao was one of the first Chinese filmmakers to make extensive use of traditional literature, legends, and myths.Tianyi made highly successful genre films, including costume drama, swordplay, and gods and ghosts, inspiring numerous imitations from other studios. The studio's 1925 film Swordswoman Li Feifei is considered by some as the earliest Chinese martial arts film.
In 1926, Tianyi released two highly successful costume dramas: The Lovers (Liang Zhu Tongshi, based on the legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai), and White Snake (based on the eponymous legend), both directed by Shao Zuiweng. In addition to success in the domestic market, White Snake also became the most successful Chinese film in Southeast Asia.
By the 1930s, Tianyi had become one of the top Chinese film studios, along with Mingxing and Lianhua.Unlike other major studios, which produced politically charged, socially conscious leftist films, Tianyi mainly focussed on making apolitical "entertainment" films.
Tianyi was one of the first filmmakers to take the leap from silent films to sound. In 1931, Shao produced A Singer's Story (歌場春色), one of the earliest Chinese sound films, directed by Li Pingqian.The film White Gold Dragon (1933) was the first Cantonese language sound film, inspired by Shao's encounter with Cantonese opera performers in Shanghai; the film was very successful in Hong Kong, Macao and throughout Southeast Asia. Starting in 1934, Tianyi made a series of Mr. Wang comedy films adapted from the popular comic strip of Ye Qianyu.
Still riding the success of White Gold Dragon Shao moved to Hong Kong with his brother, where the brothers became key figures in establishing Cantonese cinema in Hong Kong. After the Shao brothers recovered from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and Singapore during World War II, they expanded their film distribution business to include foreign films from the United States, England, France and India.
Besides Shanghai, Tianyi also expanded its business to Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. In the mid-1920s, Shao Zuiweng sent Runme and Run Run to Singapore, then part of British Malaya, where they established a company called the Shaw Organisation to distribute films made by Tianyi. Around 1930, the Shaw brothers set up Nanyang (South Seas) Film Studio to produce films.
In 1933, Tianyi released White Gold Dragon, the first Cantonese talkie ever produced, which was a commercial success in southern China. Tianyi subsequently established a studio in Hong Kong in 1933–34 to produce Cantonese films. The move to Hong Kong was accelerated by the banning of martial arts films by the Chinese government as these films were thought to be morally decadent and promote superstition, as well as a ban on Cantonese films.Both of these genres were important to Tianyi as they were very popular among the Chinese diaspora communities, and Tianyi exported its Mandarin films produced in Shanghai and Cantonese films produced in Hong Kong throughout Southeast Asia. Its Hong Kong studio was destroyed by a fire in 1936, but Runde Shaw, the second eldest brother, reestablished the business as Nanyang Studio, later renamed Shaw and Sons.
Just before the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in August 1937, Tianyi shipped its equipment to Hong Kong, 76 and amalgamated the main operation with its Hong Kong branch, Nanyang Studio. Its studio in Shanghai was destroyed when the Japanese occupied the city, and Shao Zuiweng closed Shanghai-based Tianyi. The other major studios of Shanghai, Mingxing and Lianhua, also suffered fatal damage. The Shaws' operations in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia later also suffered setbacks during World War II, when the Japanese confiscated their theatres and imprisoned Run Run Shaw.:
After World War II and the Communist victory in mainland China, Shao Zuiweng retired from the film industry and stayed in Shanghai.His younger brothers, meanwhile, rebuilt their businesses in Singapore and Hong Kong. When Hong Kong emerged as the new centre for Chinese-language filmmaking, Run Run Shaw moved there from Singapore in 1957, and reorganized the Tianyi operations into Shaw Brothers Studio. Under Sir Run Run's leadership, Shaw Brothers became Hong Kong's largest and most influential film production company from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s. Shaw later concentrated on TVB, which became the dominant television company in Hong Kong.
The cinema of mainland China is one of three distinct historical threads of Chinese-language cinema together with the cinema of Hong Kong and the cinema of Taiwan.
Shaw Brothers (HK) Ltd. was the largest film production company of Hong Kong that operated form 1925 to 2011.
Sir Run Run Shaw, also known as Shao Yifu and Siu Yat-fu, was a Hong Kong entertainment mogul and philanthropist. He was one of the most influential figures in the Asian entertainment industry. He founded the Shaw Brothers Studio, one of the largest film production companies in Hong Kong, and TVB, the dominant television company in Hong Kong.
Shaw Organisation is a film distribution company and cinema chain founded by brothers Runme Shaw and Run Run Shaw who went to Singapore in the 1920s to expand their family business founded by Runje Shaw. The company originally operated as a distributor for the Shaw brothers' Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai. Run Run Shaw later moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s to run Shaw Brothers Studio, whilst Runme Shaw stayed in Singapore to continue Shaw Organisation's operations. Unlike Tianyi, Shaw Organisation does not produce films but distribute them in their theatres.
Wu Yonggang was a prominent Chinese film director during the 1930s. Today Wu is best known for his directorial debut, The Goddess. Wu had a long career with the Lianhua Film Company in the 1930s, in Chongqing during the war, and in the mainland after the 1949 communist revolution.
Mingxing Film Company, also known as The Star Motion Picture Company, was one of the largest production companies during the 1920s, and 1930s in the Republican era. Founded in Shanghai, the company lasted from 1922 until 1937 when it was closed permanently by the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Minxin Film Company, also known as China Sun Motion Picture Company Ltd. (1923–1930) was one of the earliest movie studios in the history of Chinese cinema and Hong Kong cinema.
Shao is a common Chinese family name. It is the 86th most populous family name in China. It corresponds to last name So in Korean; "Thiệu" or "Thiều" in Vietnamese; and Siu, Chow, or Sho in other Chinese romanisations. The origin of the family name Shao is thought to have come from the royal lines of the Zhou Dynasty in ancient China. The King's loyal subject Duke of Shao (召公), was thought to have originated the Shao lines.
Runde Shaw (1898–1973), also known as Shao Cunren and Shao Rendi, was the second-oldest of the Shaw brothers, originally from Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, who established Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai in the early 1920s, setting the stage for what would become the most prolific film production company in Asia. His father was Shanghai textile merchant Shaw Yuh Hsuen (1867–1920).
Tan Sri Dr. Runme Shaw, K.St.J was the chairman and founder of the Shaw Organisation of Singapore. Runme Shaw and his brother, Run Run Shaw, together known as the Shaw Brothers, were pioneers in the film and entertainment industry in Singapore and Malaya, and brought to life the movie industry in Asia, especially the Southeast Asian region.
Runje Shaw (1896–1975), also known as Shao Zuiweng and Shao Renjie, was a Chinese film entrepreneur, producer and director. The eldest of the Shaw brothers, in 1925 he founded Tianyi Film Company in Shanghai, which became one of the top three film production companies in pre-WWII Republic of China, and the beginning of the Shaw Brothers media empire.
Mulan Joins the Army is a 1939 Chinese historical war film. It is one of several film adaptations of the Hua Mulan legend, which have included two silent versions: Hua Mulan Joins the Army (1927) by Tianyi Film Company, and a less successful Mulan Joins the Army (1928) produced by China Sun Motion Picture Company.
Hu Die, also known by her English name Butterfly Wu, was one of the most popular Chinese actresses during the 1920s and 1930s. She starred in The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple, which started a craze for martial arts films, Sing-Song Girl Red Peony, China's first sound film, and what is considered her best film, Twin Sisters. She was voted China's first "Movie Queen" in 1933, and won the Best Actress Award at the 1960 Asian Film Festival for her performance in Rear Door.
Chen Yumei was a Chinese film actress and singer active during the 1920s and 1930s. In her heyday she was one of the biggest stars in China, crowned "Movie Queen" in 1934. At the peak of her career she married Runje Shaw, the boss of Tianyi Film Company, and retired from acting. She was nicknamed the "frugal star" for her efforts at promoting the virtue of frugality.
Hou Yao (1903–1942) was a pioneering Chinese film director, screenwriter, and film theorist. He wrote and directed many films including The Discarded Wife (1924), Romance of the Western Chamber (1927), the first Chinese film shown in Western countries, and Mulan Joins the Army (1928). He wrote Techniques of Writing Shadowplay Scripts, the first theory book on Chinese filmmaking. He founded the Culture Film Company, which was merged into a predecessor of the Shaw Brothers Studio. He has been called the Chinese Henrik Ibsen for his advocacy for gender equality, which he shared with his wife Pu Shunqing.
Xuan Jinglin, also romanised as Sie King-ling, was a Republican era Chinese actress. She was bought out of a brothel and became a successful actress.
Chen Yanyan, born Chen Jianyan, was a Chinese actress and film producer in the cinema of Republic of China (1912–1949), British Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Wang Yin was a Chinese actor who won the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actor twice, in 1962 and 1971.