Chow was an instrumental figure in building the golden era of the Hong Kong film industry, working under Run Run Shaw at Shaw Brothers Studio and co-founding Golden Harvest in 1970. He was also among the first to bring Hong Kong films to global attention through international partnerships and distribution.
Born in Hong Kong in 1927, Chow studied journalism at St. John’s University in Shanghai and began working as a reporter at the Hong Kong Tiger Standard upon returning to the city in 1949. He had a brief stint with Voice of America before leaving journalism for filmmaking when he was recruited by Shaw Brothers Studio in 1958, joining the company as the publicity chief and later became head of the production department.
He then left Shaw Brothers Studio, citing creative differences, and co-founded Golden Harvest with Leonard Ho Koon-Cheung in 1970. He reinvented industry practice by partnering with independent studios, contradicting the studio system at Shaw Brothers.
Chow’s Golden Harvest was best known for discovering Lee, making him an international kung fu star and cultural icon who is still influential today. Their first film, “The Big Boss” (1971), made Lee an instant legend, setting new box office records at the time. It was then followed by “Fist of Fury” (1972) and “The Way of the Dragon” (1972). The subsequent “Enter the Dragon” (1973) was a co-production with Warner Bros., the first co-production between Hong Kong and Hollywood.
Chan also found initial fame from filming the kung fu comedies “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” (1978) and “Drunken Master” (1978), produced by Golden Harvest. The pics became a new sub-genre of kung fu movies.
Unlike many Hong Kong filmmakers, Chow was keen on venturing into the international market, particularly Hollywood. One of his most notable successes was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990), a screen adaptation of the comic series of the same name. The live-action film grossed more than $200 million worldwide.
But Golden Harvest suffered great financial losses during the Asian financial crisis in 1998, the same year when Chow’s partner, Ho, died. Chow sold the company to China’s Wu Kebo in 2007 and it changed its name to Orange Sky Golden Harvest after merging with a mainland Chinese partner.
“Mr. Chow set up Golden Harvest in the 1970s. The company has since produced a good number of movie classics, helped nurture a pool of Hong Kong talents, and brought them to the international stage. We are most grateful for his great contribution to the development of the Hong Kong film industry,” said Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development.