When William Pfeiffer was watching kung-fu movies as a child in Connecticut and practising the latest kicks on his friends, he probably never imagined he would one day occupy the office of the man responsible for most of those screen classics, Sir Run Run Shaw. The chief executive of Celestial Pictures, owner of the Shaw Brothers' film library, feels excitement and a burden of responsibility in the role he now performs - overseeing the remastering and marketing of old films to new audiences through the latest technology. 'You can imagine the wonderful atmosphere in its heyday - all the movie stars came to this office to meet Sir Run Run and a lot of things happened between these walls,' Mr Pfeiffer says. 'It is fascinating to think about all that has gone before and in some way to do our best to continue the legacy of the Shaw brothers and the heritage and the great films that were produced here.' But while Mr Pfeiffer has found elements of a homecoming in the old Shaw studio building in Clearwater Road, his career has progressed by a road less travelled since torn knee ligaments playing ice hockey at university forced the young student to look for a new challenge - an undergraduate overseas study programme at Sophia University in Tokyo. 'Japan at that time  was still something of a mystery. It was before the boom when television series ignited people's interest in all things Japanese. I went there and fell in love with the culture and the people and the history.' Mr Pfeiffer became head of Disney Home Video Japan at the age of 25 - beginning two decades in the entertainment business marked by rapid technological change from television to satellite and cable to DVDs and finally the internet. 'At that stage, Disney was only promoting videos, so I came up with the idea of doing TV shows because people didn't have the chance to see Disney on television. People were watching Doraemon and all the Japanese anime, so we tried to promote the whole Disney theme using the concept of the Mickey Mouse Show, which I had watched as a child.' Disney's first foray into overseas production was, by Mr Pfeiffer's own admission, 90 per cent Disney and only 10 per cent local, and while marketing an American brand to an Asian culture was an interesting challenge, it had unnerving implications for someone whose love of the region stemmed from observing its culture. 'There was even a Fortune magazine piece in which I was described as the purveyor of American pop culture into Asia,' he recalls. 'And I looked at that and I remember feeling not all that happy in the sense that you felt that there might be a higher calling.' Fortune's depiction of American pop culture as 'America's hottest export' also coincided with the rise of satellite and cable television in the region, sparked largely by interest among Indian viewers in CNN's coverage of the 1991 Gulf war and by limitations on terrestrial television capacity in the region. Mr Pfeiffer says Disney's reluctance to move into the branded-channels that quickly became fashionable on cable was the other reason for deciding to move to Hong Kong as Asia managing director of Sony Pictures' Columbia Tristar International Television in 1992. Reversing that 90-10 divide in favour of local content - 'with 10 per cent Hollywood expertise' - quickly became the mission. 'There's nothing like coming up with an idea, and developing it and seeing that people are touched by it. Whether they are laughing at a comedy or crying at a drama - reaching people is the nature of the entertainment industry,' Mr Pfeiffer says. 'That is infinitely more satisfying than exporting content and localising the language and putting subtitles on it.' The launch of Sony Entertainment TV in India and production teams working in China saw Sony producing 4,000 hours per year of local-language content by the time Mr Pfeiffer left the company to join Celestial Pictures in 2001. In a way, joining Celestial was a return of sorts for Mr Pfeiffer, as he had - on behalf of Sony - offered to buy the Shaw studios in 1995 in a bid to turn it into Sony's Asian production base. 'We thought we were going to revitalise [the studio] and this was going to be our basis for producing local content,' he says of Sony's plans then. 'I think certainly Sony would have invested a lot more money in Shaw than Shaw was investing at the time. Looking back, Mr Pfeiffer is somewhat relieved that the deal did not go through. 'But of course, now I'm glad that [Sir Run Run] didn't sell the company because otherwise, I wouldn't have had this opportunity to sit here.' The challenge at Celestial remains distinctly different from those at Sony and Disney. 'Obviously, you'd love to have a Lord of the Rings, but on the other hand, you're competing on a much more local level,' he says. 'You really have to rely on new ideas for content and for channels, and survive on your ability to reach the market as opposed to leveraging the assets at a large studio. At a company like Celestial Pictures, it is much more entrepreneurial and that is a great challenge.' But as had been the case at Disney and Sony, Mr Pfeiffer's arrival at Celestial coincided with technological developments that were redefining the movie distribution business. And just as cable and satellite opened up channels for new programming while undermining existing markets for cinema and video, digital distribution over the internet now promises greater access for consumers while introducing the risk of piracy on an unprecedented scale. 'Costs should come down through electronic distribution because you don't have the inefficiencies of the packaging [physical sales] system. What matters is that consumers get what they want, when they want it with good picture quality and at a reasonable price,' Mr Pfeiffer says. At the same time, revenue streams are now fragmented - from cinema tickets to pay television royalties to DVD sales, digital downloads and, increasingly, ring tones and mobile games. 'As a business, you have to be in all segments to get the revenue. At some point, you have to do your part to grow different segments but at the same time you don't want to get in too early and end up wasting resources trying to grow the market. At a certain point, the market hits an inflexion point with a critical mass of users and at that moment you have to be ready.' At Sony, Mr Pfeiffer witnessed the internal tensions between two businesses - a consumer electronics unit that was fearful of losing sales of DVD recorders versus a content business eager to exploit new opportunities. In contrast, at Celestial, Mr Pfeiffer is able to concentrate on spreading the Shaw catalogue wherever there are business opportunities. Last week, for instance, Celestial signed a deal with Singapore-based video-on-demand company Anytime, a move that will see newly formatted Shaw Brothers movies distributed regionally over internet-protocol television. Having witnessed first-hand how technology has transformed the entertainment business over the past two decades, what are the next developments the industry has in store? 'A greater sensory experience, perhaps, where viewers can feel and smell what is taking place in the movie,' Mr Pfeiffer says. 'This is certainly a fascinating area of opportunity. But at the same time, I have my concerns about where technology can take us. I am not sure that the human brain and emotions and psyche and synapses are fully equipped to deal with all the experience that technology will enable. It's an interesting question. 'But at the end of the day, people will always want to see a good story well told - the same as in a good book,' he adds. Biography William Pfeiffer earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame and is also a graduate of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. He has lived in Asia for 23 years, working as managing director for Walt Disney's regional home entertainment business before heading up Sony Pictures' Columbia TriStar International Television's regional operation from Hong Kong. He is currently chief executive of Hong Kong-based Celestial Pictures, which owns and distributes Asia's largest film library, including the Shaw Brothers collection. Celestial also owns and operates television channels, including a new Chinese general-entertainment channel and Celestial Movies.