Friday, April 24, 2009

My city is gangster

No, it's not Toronto that I'm referring to (although it's been feeling a bit sketchier lately too). I'm talking about that marvellous urban metropolis and former colony of her majesty, the Queen - Hong Kong.

It wasn't until high school that I took a concerted interest in my family's Hong Kong heritage. Flopping about in a new school, I reached out for people with which I shared some commonality, and superficially the most detectable were other East Asians... and I began to change.

Suddenly, I was trying to improve my broken Cantonese. I paid more attention and respect to Hong Kong cinema, and occasionally, Hong Kong pop stars. I visited Hong Kong with my family. I marvelled at its sophisticated subway network, the MTR. I was hypnotized by the dense and unending sea of skyscrapers and people. I was energized by the sleepless streets of Mong Kok, the bargain frenzies of Lui Yun Gai, and the electronics bonanza of Ap Lui Gai. I even took to wearing enormous, shoe-enveloping FOB jeans.

I was proud. Proud to have links to such a modern, international, and affluent metropolis. I knew there were triads than ran amok here and there, and that Macau was rife with casinos and knife-wielding gangsters, but there is organized crime everywhere... right? I didn't think twice.

Then there was Edison Chen, Vancouver-born Hong Kong superstar extraordinaire. Actor. Singer. Clothes designer. Playboy. Still in his twenties, he had everything going for him - fame, fortune, and a burgeoning career.

But then, in 2007, naked sex photos of Edison with various Hong Kong divas began appearing on the Internet. These were apparently stolen from Edison's recently serviced laptop computer and released to the public by some twerp with a misdirected god-complex and unhealthy admiration for Light Yagami. The scandal made ripples around the world, but nowhere more than in Hong Kong. Reputations were destroyed, and Edison had little choice but to retire from the entertainment scene with as much dignity as he could muster.

Even by this point in the story, I felt sympathy. Sure, taking naked sex photos of all your love conquests isn't the classiest thing to do, but Edison was a superstar with playboy tendencies. Had the same incident occurred in the West, the hype would have blown over in a week. Had Justin Timberlake pulled the same stunt, his career would likely have accelerated rather than imploded (whilst a million fangirls swooned over how hot he was in the nude). In fact, other stars have made their claim to fame on similar incidents with little to no talent whatsoever.

Yet Edison, being of Hong Kong pedigree, was toast.

But that's not all! Also flying around were rumours of underworld contracts on Edison's life or for his severed hands. Usually, such rumours would be bollocks. However, in Hong Kong, this is likely not so. In Hong Kong, the entire entertainment industry is tied to the triad - from the top down. Everyone is connected. Celebrities have been beaten to near death for speaking out against the triads, and popular comedy actor Stephen Chow was denied immigration to Canada because of his alleged ties to organized crime.

Hong Kong is a distinguished, modern, and successful city, yet a major and very public industry remains in the hands of gangsters. It was the first time this had occurred to me, and it was shocking. Disturbing. How did things become like this?

The answer is they had always been like this. As the triad bosses became more successful, they cleaned up, but they never really cleaned up. With no public will to change the status quo, they made their ascendancy up the societal ladder and parked themselves at the top.

Several months after the scandal, Edison crawled out of hiding. His Hong Kong career might be over, but he could still be successful elsewhere, right? So he took his act over to Singapore. The reaction was immediate. A golden bullet was mailed over to a Hong Kong TV station with a letter warning Edison not to make any further media appearances after April 4th.

"We hope Edison Chen will take this warning seriously, otherwise his personal safety will be threatened," it said. That sent a chill down my spine.

So while I still marvel at the enterprising spirit of the Cantonese and swoon and pine over Hong Kong, I pause every now and then to feel nauseous and revolted in the knowledge that.... my city is gangster.


sandlot said...

Wow. This awfully sounds like my experiences with embracing HK/Chinese culture, minus the FOB jeans. I also had the HUGEST CRUSH on Edison Chen, which lead me to actually buy most of his albums (not the fan ban ones too, but the legit ones, which are mad expensive). There was also his poster in my room, followed by photos with personalized autographs sent from my cousin who works in the entertainment industry... and i could go on and on. hahaha.

I haven't been following HK media in awhile, but i heard he has a new movie coming out soon?! I kind of want to watch it. haha. said...

not a single word with Kevin in it. By imperial decree, all posts relating to Hong Kong must contain the words "Her Majesty" and "Kevin" within the documents of concern.

In my opinion, Edison was not a superstar. He did not command the same kind of respect that superstars got. Just sayin~

a_ndy said...

@Sandlot: Whaddayaknow, Edison does have a new movie coming out. It's his sniper flick, which was supposed to come out last year but got postponed because of the scandal. If Edison does take another swipe at the entertainment industry, I hope he doesn't get shot, or stabbed, or eviscerated...

@BrutalTurtle: If you look carefully, my post does include the words "Her Majesty." Just check out the first paragraph. Edison wasn't a superstar? I though he was. He was pretty famous, that's for sure.

sandlot said...

To follow up both our comments:

You ended up owning the dvd. I ended up watching it with you. Although, I don't really remember the entire story because we weren't really watching were we? hahaha.

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