The Hong Kong Gangster Films of Simon Yam              

                                           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

                               related subject matter- including Andy Lau, Karen Mok, Ekin Cheng, Louis Koo,

                               Jordan Chan, Francis Ng, Lau Ching Wan, Anthony Wong, Jacky Cheung, Chow 

                              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 

                                                                                      Dangerous 3

                              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: 

                                                                              “Tiger of Wanchai" (1994).                                 
                                  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 

                                                                               authorities- execution. 


                                                                            Operation Billionaires

                                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 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

                                                                          Burning Ambition


                                                                          Cold War   


                                                                          Dragon Killer   

                                                                          Final Romance   

                                                                          Final Run

                                                                          Full Contact

                                                                          Gun and Rose

                                                                          Juliet In Love    

                                                                          Killer's Romance

                                                                          King of Robbery 

                                                                          Law Don          

                                                                          The Legend of Speed

                                                                          Love Among the Triad    

                                                                          Love, Guns and Glass   

                                                                          Man Wanted 3  

                                                                          The Mission  

                                                                          Mission of Condor


                                                                          The Night Rider

                                                                          Operation Billionaires   


                                                                          The Prince of Portland Street