Killer's remorse not enough
FOR CHEUNG YAU-HANG, on whose story From the Queen to the Chief Executive centres, the day the film premiered locally was just like any other day behind bars. The 32-year-old, who was convicted of participating in the brutal murder of two Island School students on Braemar Hill in 1985, has spent half his life in jail. From his cell at Shek Pik Prison on Lantau Island, he has engaged in an uphill battle for a definite term.
Of the 15 young murderers detained at the Chief Executive's discretion and given minimum terms of 15 to 30 years by Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, Cheung received the heaviest minimum term: 30 years. Only after this minimum term expires in 2017 will Cheung be given a definite term - and so finally learn when he can leave jail.
Cheung says that unlike ordinary adult prisoners, he has no right to apply for parole before his minimum term expires. Normally, a prisoner can apply for early release once he has served half of his sentence and is likely to be released once he has served two thirds. 'My ultimate sentence could be more than 45 years,' Cheung says. 'That's probably the longest of any murderer in Hong Kong history.'
He does not pin much hope on From the Queen to the Chief Executive arousing public sympathy. And he might be right, because the film is far from a box-office success. During its first week in commercial release, it attracted slightly more than 2,000 viewers and grossed about $100,000.
At the end of the film, the actor playing Cheung attempts suicide after being told his minimum term will be 30 years. Cheung did, in fact, consider killing himself. 'When I was told of the Chief Justice's recommendation, I lost my will to live,' he says. 'I will be nearly 50 when I walk out of jail. Without any way to earn a living, how will I be able to re-integrate into society?'
Speaking with Cheung through a glass partition in the prison's reception room, it is difficult to imagine he is one of Hong Kong's most notorious killers. But he is one of five men - the youngest - convicted of the horrific Braemar Hill murders. The community was stunned in 1985 by the ruthless violence inflicted on Island School students Nicola Myers, 18, and Kenneth McBride, 17. Myers was raped and sustained at least 500 cuts to her body, and McBride, her boyfriend, had more than 100 injuries and was strangled to death. Cheung maintains he played only an assisting role in the murders, hitting Myers on the gang leader's orders.
Some psychologists and social workers attribute juvenile delinquency to bad home environments, and Cheung seems a poster boy for this theory. 'I did not enjoy a single day of my childhood,' he says. 'My mother was abandoned by my father shortly after I was born. She left me to my grandmother when I was four-years-old. And I was sent to an orphanage two years later.'
At eight, he was found to have tuberculosis in his spine and had to have an operation. 'The lower parts of my body were nearly paralysed at that time,' he says. 'I was debilitated by the disease.'
His father took him back when he was 13 but treated him badly. 'I quit school one year later and became a manual worker in a restaurant, actually an illegal child labourer. The job was so unsteady that I had to make money by opening taxi doors at ferry piers,' he says. 'I soon lost my job, and when I failed to bring money back to my father, I was expelled from home. Then I wandered the streets. I met Pang [Shung-yee, the leader of the gang that would murder Myers and McBride] in early 1985 and followed him from then on.'
Cheung says he is remorseful for taking part in the murders. 'Of course, I feel sorry for the victims' families, but it's too shallow just to say I'm sorry. If I ever have a chance to meet them, I wish they'd kill me if that would ease their sorrow.'
Members of the McBride family have declined to comment on the film and prefer to concentrate on the work of a fund set up in Myers' and McBride's names to help needy students.