MY TAKE
My Take
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Wave of violent criminals got what they deserved

The death of notorious gangster Yip Kai-foon brings back terrible memories of a time when Hong Kong was stalked by heavily armed criminals with no regard for human life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:59pm

There is collective memory. Then there are collective nightmares. The death of notorious gangster Yip Kai-foon brings back terrible memories of a time when Hong Kong was stalked by heavily armed criminals with no regard for human life.

Nowadays Hong Kong people may complain about mainland parallel traders and rude tourists, but try to be thankful – people of my generation lived in fear of criminals who wouldn’t think twice about shooting up our streets with powerful weapons. Nicknamed the “Hong Kong-Guangdong soldiers”, they were criminals who operated out of the mainland’s south.

Man in famed image ‘not notorious Hong Kong robber Yip Kai-foon’

During the 1980s and 1990s when Yip and other criminal kingpins such as the executed “Big Spender” Cheung Tze-keung and Kwai Ping-hung were active, no jewellery stores, goldsmiths or foreign exchange shops were safe. They were part of a violent crime wave that swept criminals across the border and back to do their dirty deeds. Cheung took the game to a whole new level by taking ransoms worth billions by targeting the families of the city’s most prominent developers. Yip, who died this week from cancer aged 55, made the AK-47, his weapon of choice, a household name in Hong Kong.

One of the first achievements in the years straddling the 1997 handover was in fact cooperation between Guangdong public security authorities and Hong Kong police that helped put an end to this crime wave.

Today, the streets of Hong Kong are among the safest in the world. Mainland officials were mocked and ridiculed at the time when they praised some Hong Kong triads as “patriotic”.

In fact, their real meaning was that the “right” triads didn’t contribute to the crime wave during that crucial transition period, thereby helping to isolate those violent gangs and making it easier for mainland public security and Hong Kong police forces to neutralise them.

‘King of Thieves’ Yip Kai-foon forced Hong Kong police to change tactics and beef up arms

Ironically, these criminals inadvertently helped revitalise a whole movie genre and sustain the local film industry for a while before it entered a period of rapid decline. They were the Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone of Hong Kong.

Even today, movies are still being made about those three gangsters, the latest being the award-winning Trivisa, which was praised by critics last year. What those movies failed to emphasise enough was the terrible fate that awaited them at the end of the road.

These men and their gang members were either jailed, killed or executed. They got what they deserved.