Era of reel and real life crime-fighting ends as Hong Kong bids farewell to iconic Yau Ma Tei police station

Now it’s a different scene for compound that drew tourists and locals alike

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 12:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 January, 2017, 12:02am

Gang fights, armed robberies, valiant officers battling criminal elements in the nearby wholesale fruit market – these are the scenes one pictures at the mention of Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei police station.

The near century-old compound at the junction of Public Square Street and Canton Road has appeared frequently on both big and small screens, having been home to sets for numerous TV dramas and crime movies including Lee Rock (1991), Election (2005) and Rush Hour 2 (2001), which featured Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

These productions turned the station into a landmark, drawing camera-wielding tourists and locals as a matter of course. Even foreign cops have made the pilgrimage to Yau Ma Tei hoping to exchange souvenirs like police badges with their Hong Kong counterparts.

But these days, visitors may find themselves disappointed. The compound was closed last June to facilitate construction of the Central Kowloon Route, with part of it due for eventual demolition.

Operations have been moved to new premises at Yau Cheung Road, and recently officers spoke about their former workplace now in transition.

“Many passionate kids came specially to the station when visiting Hong Kong to take pictures with us at the entrance,” station sergeant Leung Sai-cheong said, adding officers tried to oblige. “It helped build a positive image.”

But those who feel the strongest attachment to the building – wooden handrails, stone staircases, chimneys and all – are the veteran officers who have walked its corridors for a decade or more.

Leung, who worked at the station for 17 years, said he missed the historical items adorning the building’s interior. These included objects such as a life buoy, copper oil lamp and wooden ship’s wheel, left from a time when the station was responsible for security at sea as there was a pier behind the compound.

“I didn’t find the old one special when I worked there every day,” Leung said. “But when those items could no longer be seen at the new station, I missed them a lot. I can’t hear the sound from the wooden floor (when someone walks on it) any more.”

Built in 1922 in the Edwardian style, the white and blue main block (also called “the old block”) is a three-storey building with two elongated wings forming a V shape. A new accommodation block was built in 1957.

It is understood that some of the architectural features were adapted for feng shui reasons – to combat crime and protect officers at the station. The portico at the main entrance being set in an indented corner is said to be one of the examples.

The station was classified as a Grade II historic building in 2009.

As for the compound’s more dramatic public image, the station’s old-timers said that was an image shaped by movies.

“It was not like that in real life,” administration support subunit commander Lau Kwan-ho said. “At least the crime rate in the wholesale fruit market is not particularly high.” He said crime nearby was no different to elsewhere in town.

Though the old station is currently under renovation, two officers are still working at the report room to serve citizens unaware of the relocation.

The old block will become the new office of the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, but the accommodation block will be demolished.

Lee Hing-yeung, acting assistant divisional commander for the district, said he was proud have worked at the old Yau Ma Tei.

He added that officers working there all knew each other as the three-storey compound was small.

And he was glad that the building had attracted so many visitors in its heyday.

“We left a good memory in their lives,” Lee said.