Bruce Lee, Ninja Turtles Helped Create a Hong Kong Movie Mogul : Entertainment: Producer Raymond Chow took big chances while growing large, and has plans to keep expanding.

From Reuters

Movie mogul Raymond Chow is not adverse to taking a bit of a gamble. He took a chance with U.S.-born, Hong Kong-reared actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, whose films promptly broke all industry records, surpassing “The Sound of Music” for the highest profit-to-investment ratio.

He took another chance when he gave the go-ahead in a long-distance phone call to an off-the-wall script that every studio in Hollywood had scornfully rejected.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” proved a smash hit.

So when the listing of the film distribution arm of his company coincided with a mini-meltdown of the Hong Kong stock market, it should have come as no surprise to those used to movie happy endings to find that the offering not only flaunted all the odds but did so with a vengeance.

Chow has bold plans to expand throughout the region, a market that includes China and Vietnam.

But as of yet he has no thought of spinning off the division of the company that is closest to his heart: the filmmaking arm of Golden Harvest.


“I list my profession as film producer. Film production is very much in my heart,” Chow said in a recent interview.

Born in Hong Kong in 1927 and educated in Shanghai, Chow made his first venture into commerce while still in high school by starting a sports newspaper and suborning his friends to work for him.

The paper made money. “Not much,” the quiet-spoken Chow said with a smile. “Just pocket money.”

He was persuaded by his mother to return to Hong Kong in 1949 as the Communist revolution swept China. Chow, who received a degree in journalism at Shanghai’s prestigious St. John’s University, worked as a reporter for the Hong Kong Standard and later started up the Voice of America’s operations in Hong Kong.

He was later in charge of publicity for Sir Run Run Shaw, credited with almost single-handedly founding the Hong Kong film industry, dubbed the Hollywood of the East.

But it was production rather than publicity that interested Chow, who was armed with perhaps more enthusiasm than practical knowledge.

Chow’s decision to branch out on his own in 1970, when he formed Golden Harvest, not surprisingly led to bitter rivalry with his former employer. This intensified when Chow made a determined attempt to woo the young Bruce Lee.

Chow knew Lee as a child star in Hong Kong movies before leaving at age of 18 for the United States. But when he saw Lee demonstrate on local television what even by Hong Kong’s martial arts standards was an extraordinary display of prowess, his interest was piqued.

“Bruce got carried away. He was on a roll that evening. Everything he tried worked perfectly first time. He later confessed he probably couldn’t have repeated it,” Chow said.

Lee had offers from Shaw, Chow said carefully, but these would have locked him into long contracts for not much money.

“I phoned him and we worked out a deal on the back of an envelope. We signed a one-page letter of intent and the rest is history.”

The first Chow-Lee film, “Big Boss"--released in the United States as “Fists of Fury"--was filmed in Thailand on a shoestring budget of just $50,000.

“That was probably the world’s most profitable film,” Chow recalled. “The returns were more than 500 times, or even 1,000 times more than the original investment.”

In Asia, according to headlines at the time, it quickly broke the seemingly unassailable box office record held by “The Sound of Music” for many years. Critics predicted the record would not be broken again for many years.

The second Chow-Lee film, released in the West as “The Chinese Connection” but confusingly as “Fists of Fury” in Chinese, promptly set a fresh box office record.

As for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” it was the name that intrigued Chow, despite the mound of rejection notices the script had generated.

“It was funny, it was unique. What a contradiction in terms, mutants and healthy teen-agers, slow-moving turtles and swift, deadly ninjas,” he said.

“I gave it the go-ahead but set a limit of $5 million.”

Costs soon crept up, forcing Chow to fly to the United States to consider whether to cancel. He came away convinced that even if costs rose to $15 million, the project would still work.

“It was a bit of a gamble, but only a bit of one,” he said. “In fact it exceeded expectations by many, many times.”