Triad Movies in Hong Kong

Election is the new triad-themed movies directed by Johnny To scheduled to open on October 20.  A recent story in Hong Kong brings up again the subject of just how triad-themed movies and comic books influence the behavior of children.  Please remember in the story below that the boys are 14 or under and still in Form 2 (sophomore year in junior high school).
(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News)

The subject is a 13-year-old named Wong in Form 2 at a certain Kwai Chung public school.  Yesterday on the way to school, Wong was surrounded by five schoolmates who demanded HK$10 from his.  Wong said that he had no money.  The others asked him: "Who are you with? (你跟邊度)" Wong replied that he had no triad background.

Later at noon, Wong was having lunch by the basketball court.  The five schoolmates surrounded him again and demanded money.  Wong refused again.  He was slapped in the back of his head.  Wong called the police and the five have been arrested since then.

That would not be much of a story except for what Wong then told the reporter.  Wong admitted that he had problems with the five for some time already.  He said that three of them were in his class, one of them claimed to be with the Wo Shing Wo (和勝和) triad and the other claimed to be with "How"-group (孝字堆)of the 14K triad.  Then he said: " 他們經常『串』我,今天又『串』,問我要錢,還打了我,我生氣,所以報警。我特意惹惱他們,等他打我然後報警,『借差人過橋』教訓他們﹗(translation: "They often harass me.  Today they harassed me, they asked me for money and they hit me.  I got mad and I called the police.  I deliberately provoked them and when he hit me, I called the cops.  I used the cops to teach them a lesson.")"

When asked if he was afraid of any revenge, Wong said: 我不怕,我自己也是黑社會﹗是天水圍『14K德字堆』。(translation: I'm not afraid.  I myself am a member of the "Tak"-group of the 14K in Tian Shui Wei)  Wong may not have realized that it is against the law to proclaim triad membership.

As a side note, Wong is given the nickname of 吹水王 by his classmates, and that translates to "Bullshit King."  (Sing Tao via Yahoo! News)  The police believes that someone has been watching too many triad movies and then tried to talk and act like those characters in the movies.

I am not going to say anything about whether triad-themed movies have corrupt influences on children.  Most of the rest of the world have made up their minds already.  However, I can assure you that reality is infinitely less heroic and more banal than what are seen in movies and comic books.

Here is a story from my days as a translator for the USA DEA/FBI (see Translation and its Discontents for that part of my career).  The place is East Broadway in Chinatown, New York City and the time is in the late 1980's.  At the time, several gangs 'controlled' different parts of Chinatown.  For example, Mott Street belonged to the Ghost Shadows, Bayard Street belonged to the Flying Dragons, while East Broadway, Division Street and Henry Street belonged to a third gang named Tung On and so.  For the Tung On gang, the three streets were assigned to three different lieutenants.  What about Elizabeth Street?  Well, the NYPD 5th Precinct house is in the middle of the block and it would be galling for the gangsters to demand protection payoff from the police!

For the gangs, one big chunk of revenue was the protection racket.  A street lieutenant may have 5 soldiers working for him.  So he will parcel up the street, such that each soldier was responsible for 10 stores, for example.  Each storeowner might be paying US$100 or more per month for 'protection' as in "You have a nice storefront and it would be a shame if a brick came through the front window in the middle of the night."  Since the storefront window costs much more than US$100, it was easy to see what the rational choice was.  That was just the typical gangster business that might be conducted anywhere else in the world.

Here is the conversation that I will recall for you.  The 'person of interest' was a gang member in the East Broadway sector and he was speaking to another gang member, who had turned informant and was secretly wearing a body microphone at the time.

The 'person of interest' said:

"I have not seen you for a while.  I am sure that you know that I had been arrested for physical battery and sentenced to six months in jail.  I was not the only person there, but I did not reveal the names of the others.  While I was in jail, there was no money for my family.  I don't expect those others to come up with their own money.  At least, they could have collected the protection money for my stores and gave it to my family every month.  But nothing of the sort happened.  None of them even came to visit me.  

When I got out, I got a nasty surprise.  While I was in jail, they went to the stores, collected the money that was mine and kept it for themselves.  Even more stunning was the fact that they had gone ahead to collect the money in advance!  Right before I was due to get out, they told the stores to pay the next three months in the name of convenience.  When I saw them, they acted as if nothing was wrong!"

The movies show chivalry as well as betrayal in triad society.  The reality is much more banal.  In movies, someone betrays you in order to become Big Brother himself.  In real life, someone betrays you for a few hundred dollars while knowing full well that they can't cover the tracks.  Of course, in the above conversation, you should also take the claim that the 'person of interest' did not reveal the names of his accomplices with a huge grain of salt.  After all, he was talking to a gangster colleague who had turned police informer.  In that sense, the claim by the Wong boy of using the police to teach the others a lesson is closer to reality than the movies that he was assumed to have watched too many of.