The Hong Kong Gangster Films of Simon Yam
or.. How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Mob
Few "professions" have been so shamelessly glamourized in cinema worldwide than
that of the gangster. In Hong Kong, gangster movies are ubiquitous, and Simon
Yam has made more than his fair share of them, playing a member of the underworld
in no less than 39 films.
Hong Kong cinema has long been influenced by the involvement of triads, who
have been known to produce, cast and invest in local films. Stories of stars being
pressured to participate in triad funded efforts have surfaced over the years.
Actors affected by triads include Andy Lau, Danny Lee, Jet Li, and Stephen Chow.
Chow was twice denied a Canadian visa due to his alleged and unsubstantiated ties
to triads. Even Jackie Chan was harassed by gangsters early in his career- enough
to warrant the helpful mediation of well conected kung fu star Jimmy Wang Yu.
In 2001, South China Morning Post reported that Chow Yun-Fat was photographed
at a HK function "smiling with gangland kingpin Tong Ko-Kon", a convicted drug
trafficker and money launderer. Ng Chi Hung, a former triad member turned
actor-producer, was also in the photo. Ng represents a small portion of HK movie
industry figures who have traded their real life experience in triads for show biz.
Veteran actor Chan Wai Man is the most enduring example- an admitted former
triad with the tattoos to prove it, Chan has proudly portrayed the gang lifestyle
in Hong Kong cinema for decades. His background gives his performances a
natural authenticity that is consistently marketable in a gang-obsessed movie
The fascination is certainly not exclusive to Hong Kong. Bollywood has had its
own troublesome connection to gangs. Stars and directors have been faced with
threats of extortion, violence, and in some cases, death. Action star Sanjay Dutt
was tape recorded in phone conversations with a noted gangster, and Indian
filmmaker Gulshan Kumar was assassinated in 1997.
Like Bollywood, American and European cinema has a rich tradition of mob
worship. French, Japanese and U.S films have had an enormous influence on
Hong Kong's. Time and time again, HK actors and directors cite Robert DeNiro,
Al Pacino and Martin Scorcese as influences, no doubt for their portrayals of
violent mafiosa more than anything.
Some actors, like Roy Cheung and actor-producer Lee Siu Kei, specialize in triad
characters and have made themselves synonymous with such roles. Yet almost
every major actor in Hong Kong has spent some portion of their career in gang
Yun Fat, Gigi Lai and many others. Quite simply, the topic is almost inescapable.
In 1992 The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations conducted an
extensive report on Asian gang societies. Of particular focus was Hong Kong's
largest triad, Sun Yee On, which was also said to exert control over Hong Kong
movie production. Occasional news headlines would seem to support such claims.
Uber-producer/director Wong Jing has been beaten up, and comic actor Eric Tsang
was ambushed and beaten by three triad members in 2001. The late director Lo
Wei, Chinastar president Charles Heung, and EEG president Albert Yeung are all
said to have ties with triads. In 1994 Jackie Chan led a consortium of Hong Kong's
top actors in a demonstration against the triads. A similar gathering took place in
2002 after old photos of a distressed kidnapped actress (Carina Lau), were printed
in Eastweek magazine, published by notorious EEG "businessman" Albert Yeung.
The incident is eerily reminiscent of a scenario in which Simon Yam's model
girlfriend is kidnapped and photographed in distress in the film Young and
Simon Yam himself said cryptically in 1993: "Sometimes you don't want to do it,
but... you have to do it." Between 1994 and 1998, Yam portrayed real life
gangsters in several controversial and high profile film biographies- more than
any other Hong Kong actor.
The Tragic Fantasy: "Tiger of Wanchai"
One man whose triad lifestyle crossed over into his entertainment connections
was a race car driver whose story was loosely told in The Tragic Fantasy:
A member of the Sun Yee On triad, he had retaliated against another triad
filmmaker for an assault on his friend, singer/actress Anita Mui in a HK nightclub.
After that man was found dead, the ‘Tiger’ became a suspect in the murder. The
following year, while competing in the Macau Grand Prix, he was ambushed
outside a hotel lobby and fatally shot. Simon Yam played him in the film, which
dramatically re-enacted the hit in bloody detail.
King of Robbery
The release of King of Robbery made headlines in 1996 when Simon played the
part of an extremely dangerous armed bank robber, whose arraignment in court
coincided with the films’ theatrical debut.
Bomb threats were made by people claiming to associated with him to various
theatres showing the movie, some of which pulled the film. The defendant’s
lawyer then got an injunction banning its release temporarily while legal
proceedings took place, though he wasn’t able to win his client’s freedom-
the guy is still in jail today.
Two years later, Simon played a convicted Macau gangster in Casino, a
controversial bio-pic produced and financed by the subject himself.
After the notorious gangster brazenly promoted the film in press interviews
including one for Time magazine, the film made international news when he was
arrested just prior to the film’s premiere.
He is now serving a fifteen year sentence in a maximum security island prison, a
far more lenient fate than what would have likely been handed down by Chinese
Execution did, however, befall the man portrayed by Simon Yam in Operation
Billionaires (1998), who holds the world record for the biggest ransom sum ever
paid to a kidnapper- recorded for posterity by Guinness. The subject was
responsible for kidnapping and ransoming family members of some of the
wealthiest tycoons in all of Hong Kong.
The film played during the trial of he and his men, which so concerned the
Organized Crime & Triad Bureau that they demanded to view it in advance of
its premiere. After his appeal was rejected, the gang boss was promptly shot by
a firing squad, and his family was customarily billed for the cost of the bullet.
The HK Gangster Films of Simon Yam © COPYRIGHT Simon Yam.com All rights reserved.
Simon Yam's Gangster Filmography
Each of the films listed below feature Simon Yam Tat Wah in a gangster / triad
role. The chronology of these movies spans 1979-2002.
Because of Lies
Gun and Rose
Juliet In Love
King of Robbery
The Legend of Speed
Love Among the Triad
Love, Guns and Glass
Man Wanted 3
Mission of Condor
The Night Rider
The Prince of Portland Street