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BootlegScope Begone: The Revival of the Shaw Brothers' Film Library

All good things come to those who wait. For Hong Kong cinema fans, its been a long wait indeed.

Since the 80's, the majority of Shaw classics have been viewed via the muddy bootleg. Distorted images suffering from clumsy dubbing or indistinct subtitles. Hacked to death with farcical edits and bludgeoned into a "pan and scan" format where the widescreen vision of the filmmaker was constricted into a 4:3 format. But that was then - this is now.

Now the familiar Shaw Brothers' logo {{ trumpets a' wailing }} have experienced a "second coming" in lustrous color and widescreen Shawscope thanks to Celestial Pictures Ltd.; a pan-Asian company run by William Pfeiffer.

Scene from "Killer Clans" (1976)
Immortalized in glorious BootlegScope!
The same image but now digitally remastered.
Crisp. Lush. Presented in magnificent Shawscope
The Renaissance of Ancient Classics

Starting in the early 50's to the mid-80's, Run Run and Runme Shaw forged a vast empire of cinematic treasures. Unfortunately, many of these jewels were never seen by modern audiences as the Shaws refused to convert their films onto video. Most of these productions withered away in the Shaw vaults and were headed to an un-ceremonious death. The Celestial deal has virtually saved the Shaw library of 760 films, which are now undergoing a massive restoration process. When complete, the film company that once dominated the Far East will shine again in all her glory.

Shaw Brothers Studios Remastering Center, located in Hong Kong, was established to perform the remastering process. A staff of 37 employees is currently working around the clock in which they complete up to four titles per week in both Mandarin and Cantonese versions. In the first six months of operation, the lab has remastered 50 films and plans to complete 20 high-definition (HD) films for Celestial each year with the remainder remastered in standard definition (SD).

Shaw Brothers Studios Remastering Center is using "da Vinci's" 2K color correction system for the restoration process. With headquarters in Florida, da Vinci Systems provides digital film, HDTV/SDTV color enhancement and film restoration to the global post-production marketplace. Click for further info on the technical aspects of this restoration process.

"Come Drink With Me" (1966)
Click on image to experience the full glory of Shawscope.
What is Shawscope? Is it CinemaScope? Panavision?

To understand the term, one should first read: When Cinema was Square. In the early 60's, cinematographer Tadashi Nishimoto introduced CinemaScope (and Eastmancolor) to the Shaw studios and they adopted the "scope" process. While Shawscope is basically the Shaw's version of CinemaScope, it should not be confused with "Panavision."

Yes, CinemaScope and Panavision are "technically" equivalent processes. Both use anamorphic lenses on the camera to squeeze a widescreen image onto standard 35mm film. When the film is shown in theaters, it is projected through an another anamorphic lens that stretches it out horizontally to the proper shape.

The confusion occurs because of two reasons. Firstly, the term CinemaScope has become synonymous for similar processes (including Shawscope) - similar to the way "Xerox" is used for "photocopy." (No, "BootlegScope" is not one; merely a satirical witticism by the author). Secondly, the term "Panavision" is a name used for several processes which include: Panavision (35mm anamorphic), Super Panavision 70, and Ultra Panavision 70 ... but that's only the half of it!

Panavision, more importantly, is a company that makes and rents (but rarely sells) cameras, lenses, and related equipment. When a company rents a Panavision camera for use on a project they are obligated to credit Panavision. If "Panavision anamorphic lenses" are used in a production, the credit reads "Filmed in Panavision" but if normal (spherical) lenses are used - whether to film in 1.66 or 1.85 [flat widescreen] or 1.33 [TV] - the credit reads "Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision" or "Photographic equipment by Panavision." When Panavision's lenses were first introduced (1971) they were so superior to the CinemaScope lenses that even Fox dropped CinemaScope in favor of Panavision.

The problem that has arose in recent years is due to the "credits." Written by agents/attorneys (not the filmmaker), the terminology has become misinterpreted. Flat widescreen films might say "Filmed in..." while anamorphic films say "Lenses and cameras..." Even various television shows (1.33:1) have been credited as "Filmed in Panavision."

Though Shaw may have utilized Panavisionís products, it doesn't necessarily mean a movie was "Filmed in Panavision." Once these films are fully restored, we may discover some were indeed shot in Panavision and not Shawscope (if the credits are correct). In any event, "BootlegScope" will finally become a thing of the past for these 760 Shaw classics.

© Terrence J. Brady

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