HE'S listed in almost every film encyclopaedia in the world, but the entry is usually short and says: 'He was the dominant force in Asian film production and distribution from the 40s to the 70s.' Even at the age of 68, it's foolish to write Raymond Chow off like that. A revision is called for. Because Raymond Chow, OBE, the chairman of Golden Harvest and 'Uncle Raymond' to his staff and colleagues, plans to be the dominant force in Asian film production and distribution way into the 21st century, when he sees the market lifting off to rival Hollywood - he's not alone in that supposition; even Hollywood can envisage it happening that way. Although part of Golden Harvest went public last year - the distribution and exhibition side of the business - Raymond Chow would still dearly love to keep it all a secret. The man who discovered Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan doesn't enjoy laying his cards on the table. It takes the best part of a year to secure an interview with Uncle Raymond and he only finally concedes an hour of his time because he's just made a great business deal that he wants to talk about. An old-style operative, there's much talk of 'old friends', 'family connections' and 'long-standing relationships' in China - which is entirely accurate but conjures up images of an Oriental film-making masonic lodge, which no Hollywood mogul could possibly break through without Uncle Raymond's benevolent assistance. And Mr Chow is indeed the avuncular type; smiling and kindly, he side-swipes requests for hard data with the ease of a seasoned pro. Information is money, after all, and bear in mind that this man is a grandmaster at bridge who has represented Hong Kong in international tournaments. Quietly, but aggressively, Golden Harvest has re-invented itself over the last few years with a highly-complicated web of joint-venture deals throughout Asia to make and distribute films, build 120 cinemas - 260 by the end of 1996 - and forge relationships which, with the best will in the world, no 'outsider' could buy into. How much of Uncle Raymond's hard-earned cash is actually on the line is never up for discussion, and even percentage points are a nightmare to source. This regrouping has sharply coincided with a massive slump in the Hong Kong box office, and seen Golden Harvest drop its slate to six movies per year (although the company is now involved in more co-productions). Jackie Chan is still the Kowloon Studio's golden goose, and Mr Chow has brokered the action star into a pan-Asian draw, earning up to US$40 million (about HK$309 million) from a Chan film in Asia alone. 'I saw it coming a long time ago,' says Mr Chow of the slump, which has seen the market for Cantonese productions drop by nearly 40 per cent in the last three years. 'And that's why we have been for so many years working on the theatre side - we see it as the life-saver for the industry. 'The present atmosphere in Hong Kong is really bad. I see that the depression has bottomed out and we must work harder than ever before to lift the market up. We've had ups and downs before, but this time it is pretty severe. Hong Kong is too small to support the industry. 'All along we have to make movies which appeal to the Asian markets. Producers in Hong Kong are struggling to find a direction - and the opening-up of China may help.' As the massive - and creaky - China film apparatus struggles to find a new direction, in part by allowing distribution of foreign films on a profit-share basis, Raymond Chow's presence is always apparent. Theatre construction? 'We have plans ready for up to 500 theatres and we are ready to go when we feel the time is right' - presumably after China rescinds the current ban on direct overseas investment. Distribution? Mr Chow was up there immediately with UIP (which handles Paramount, MGM and Universal product); True Lies and Rumble in the Bronx took US$11.5 million, while Forrest Gump grossed US$2 million. Co-production? Mr Chow has so many arrows to his bow, it's hard to count. But he will be the first to distribute a movie outside the monopoly China Film banner with Tsui Hark's Blade, co-produced by GH with the Tianshan Film Studio. 'China will be the next explosion,' he says, but he's also eyeing up Vietnam. He has multiplexes in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and will open the first in Korea by the end of next year. He has just inked a deal with Korea's Cheil Group to distribute the movies of Hollywood's new studio, DreamWorks SKG, throughout Asia (excluding Japan) for the next 10 years. 'Raymond Chow was the dominant force in Asian film production and distribution from the 1940s to the 1970s'? That was nothing in comparison to his current plans. Chow has only just begun. With Golden Cheil, for example, 'for the first time ever we'll have a pan-Asian distribution company that's not strictly distribution but exhibition and production as well', he says. All this at the age when most men would be looking for a free bus pass. But Uncle Raymond has always been driven. Born in Hong Kong but educated in Shanghai, Mr Chow started his working life as a reporter for the Hong Kong Standard, moved to Voice of America, and entered the film industry as publicity manager for Shaw Brothers. It's a quantum leap to head of production, but Chow made it quickly and worked for Shaw for 10 years in that role before co-founding Golden Harvest in 1970 with a single shining talent named Bruce Lee. More than 300 films later (most of which can be seen on STAR TV, which has the rights to the GH library), Mr Chow is determined to stake his claim to the Asian film market with however many partners it takes in every territory (and there are many). Although Golden Harvest has scored some goals in America with Cannonball Run and, most recently, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (the first Turtles movie was the most profitable independent picture of all time), Mr Chow is ready to pull out of Hollywood. 'Unless we find another miracle like Turtles, we fully intend to concentrate more on our home ground, especially China,' he says. Raymond Chow has two gospels to preach at the moment; multiplexes and China, and both are interlinked. Of the latter, he says: 'It's difficult; one source says this, the other source denies it. We just go by what they really announce, the rules, and try to see how we can put that into practice. In this way we are pioneers; we come up with a lot of ideas before they put it into practice. 'We have had exchanges and discussions with the Ministry of Film, we have had their people come to Hong Kong to check out how we operate the business. Opening up that market is not something that, as an outsider, you can try to impose. 'At Golden Harvest, we understand both sides. The Chinese are trying to introduce foreign films to China, but they have a different philosophy and policy, an entirely different way of thinking. But I think China is making big steps forward and we have to acknowledge this.' His eyes light up behind the owlish glasses and he says: 'Did you know, we estimate that the China film business is bigger than the rest of Asia combined? 'Yes, our Shanghai office has come up with some impressive figures.' Although Golden Harvest is a publicly-traded stock, it is operated on old-style lines with Uncle Raymond holding all the strings. He sees it as a family business - he has a son, an accountant, and a daughter, Roberta, who is working in Hollywood - but he keeps his friends close. It's not out-of-the-norm for employees to have worked at Hammer Hill for more than 20 years, and one of his top Taiwanese operatives went to school with Mr Chow in Shanghai more than 40 years ago. As he relaxes, the interview pulls away from business lines and stretches out for another half-hour, with Mr Chow elaborating on his film-making philosophy. It seems like stunning stuff at the time, but on reviewing the tape, you realise he wasn't exactly giving the shop away. He reminisces fondly on his days as a journalist, and regrets that his facility for language is not as sharp as before - you nod sympathetically at Uncle Raymond and later remember that this comes from a man who can negotiate a deal in at least three languages. Look at the circumstances surrounding Bruce Lee's death - was Mr Chow there that night, in Bruce's mistress Betty Lee's apartment, or wasn't he? - and you realise that Raymond Chow, OBE, is a man who has known the value of a secret all his life. 'I'm a liberal Buddhist,' he says. 'And how I like to conduct my business is with harm to none.' With that, he links arms with Cheil's Miky Lee - an 'old family friend' who has just invested US$300 million in DreamWorks SKG in return for an 11 per cent stake in the studio - and walks into the Seoul hotel lift. Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg are waiting; there are secrets to be exchanged and, most importantly, China is there to woo.