In 2000, Celestial Pictures bought the Shaw Brothers film library, the world’s largest Chinese film collection, encompassing more than 760 feature films released over a 40-year timeframe.
But back in 2000, there were no facilities in Asia able to handle the remastering of films on such an enormous commercial scale. So the Shaw Brothers Remastering Center was built in Hong Kong specifically to restore almost all of the titles.
Since then, state-of-the-art technology has been used to digitally restore each frame — 150,000 on average per remastered film, says Ross Pollack, CEO of Celestial Pictures.
Many of the original negatives were in bad condition — Hong Kong’s humidity can be tough on film negatives, some of which were from the 1950s.
“Moreover, the preservation of film in general was not a major priority in Hong Kong back then,” Pollack says. “It wasn’t until the boom of VCDs, DVDs and other ancillary markets that the industry recognized that the preservation of film is as equally important as the production of new movies.”
Remastering the titles was a painstaking process that took more than six years to complete. The soundtracks for each film were also fully restored, including both the Mandarin- and Cantonese-language versions for movies that had both soundtracks. For some films, new music and effects tracks were created to allow dubbing of foreign-language tracks to facilitate distribution internationally.
In addition, the Shaw Brothers library contains the biggest collection of kung fu movies in the world, and more than half of them were remastered in HD.
“Almost every movie in the library was restored to preserve an important part of Chinese cinematic history as well as Hong Kong’s heritage,” Pollack says. “Last year, we donated much of the original negatives and prints to the Hong Kong Film Archive so that these treasures of the Hong Kong film industry can be permanently preserved in an ideal storage environment best designed to perpetuate their lifespan.”