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True crime. Casually done.

Anita Mui: The Celebrity Who Started a Deadly Gang War

Written by George Colclough

Introduction

There are few cities on earth more closely identified with its cinema than Hong Kong, not only has the industry long served as a beacon of pride for Hong Kongers both domestically and abroad, but it has also served as a mirror onto the city’s culture, reflecting the various twists and evolutions of the cities culture and history.

In the 1950’s, following a large wave of immigration from Shanghai and the east coast of the Chinese mainland, Mandarin language movies in the style of those being produced in Shanghai were all the rage – alongside imported western movies.

In the late 1960’s, following the 1967 riots, Hong Kong spearheaded a revival of Xuxia martial arts movies, which in many ways echoed and paralleled the city’s own search for an identity in this period.

In the mid 1980’s, just as the city itself began to explode in prosperity as Chinese capital flooded in before the handover, Hong Kong cinema entered its “golden age” both domestically and overseas, as a plethora of comedies and actions movies led by local box office stars such as Andy Lau, Cherie Chung, and Jackie Chan led the industry to never seen before box office returns, and widespread international recognition.[1]

With this strong mirroring of Hong Kong society within its cinema, perhaps then it is not surprising that the golden age of the Hong Kong gangster in the 1980’s and 1990’s coincided with the golden age of Hong Kong triad during the same period.

The connection between the movie and criminal industries was far from correlative too, as in the late pre-handover period the Hong Kong movie industry was all but a subsidiary industry of the triads, in particular the 14k and Sun Yee On clans. Estimates from stars of the period who have been willing to talk publicly estimate that as many as 90% of the movies produced in Hong Kong at the time had some kind of Triad connection; be it funding, or even dictation in directing.

Today we look into a particular case when the two worlds collided in spectacular and violent fashion, when a drunken and enraged triad lord assaulted Anita Mui, one of the darlings of the Hong Kong entertainment industry, and the many shootings that followed as a result.

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The Star:

            Anita Mui[2], the central character in today’s story may be unfamiliar to many in our audience, so let us now take the chance to introduce her.

            Born October the 10th 1963 Anita anyone who knew her as a little girl could tell she was a girl destined for stardom. She began performing at the age of 5, singing Chinese opera in theatres around Hong Kong.

            She dropped out of Junior High School at the age of 14, and began performing professionally at bars and nightclubs before getting her big break, tragically having to work as soon as she was able, as she had been left orphaned as an infant following the passing of her father. She finally got her big break in 1982, when she defeated 3,000 other hopefuls to win first prize in the New Talent Amateur Singing Competition.

Anita Mui’s unique voice and style, as well as her ever evolving image and confident temperament quickly won her a mainstream following, and saw her dubbed the “Madonna of the East” by her foreign fans, and the “Daughter of Hong Kong” by her domestic ones.

She released her first album “Debts of the Heart”  shortly after her competition win in 1982. The year after that in 1983, at the age of twenty she starred in her first movie “The Sensational Pair” and would go onto star in over 40 movies over her career.  Ultimately in an industry where fame evaporated as quickly as it came, she managed to stay relevant, and continued pumping out chart topping albums and movies for the next two decades before her untimely and unfortunate death due to cervical cancer in 2003 at the age of 40.

Background

In the 1990’s the Hong Kong underworlds traditional criminal portfolio of underground pornography, human trafficking, gambling rings, and drug running was under severe attack by the police, who following an influx of mainland funding following the signing of the Sino British Joint Declaration finally had the resources to begin to crush organised crime in the city. The money was much harder to make than it had been in the past, and it was even harder to launder.

Consequently, many of the major underworld players of 1990’s Hong Kong looked to diversify into legitimate businesses, ideally businesses with lots of opportunities to fudge their accounting and launder their dirty money. The booming movie industry, with its opportunity for sky high returns on investments, naturally became a target for these diversifying gangsters. Herman Yau[3], director of The Untold Story (a dramastisation of the Eight Immortal Murders we discussed in a previous episode) once commented on the profitability of movie making in this period:

“As soon as the cameras start rolling, you make money. As long as that camera is rolling, movie executives and distributors will be falling over themselves to buy it. Say the cost of a movie is only $3,000,000 HKD ($385,000 USD) Hollywood will immediately offer you $6,000,000 HKD ($780,000 USD), it’s better than printing money!”

This sounds all well and good, who doesn’t like an easy and bountiful payday after all? But the problem starts to emerge when the triad bosses, diversifying into cinema, bring the business practices of their old trade with them.

For example, should an actor in this period find themselves less than enthused about a project being pitched to them it wasn’t uncommon to be “encouraged” to sign the contract at gunpoint. This cruel treatment wasn’t reserved for up and coming and unknown stars either, with big names such as Andy Lau[4] and Jet Li[5] reportedly having to endure such criminal encounters during this period.

The nefarious motivational techniques didn’t end at simple stick ups either, with kidnapping and blackmailing of stars also being relatively common in this period. The most famous example of this is the kidnapping and subsequent blackmailing of Carina Lau[6]that occured in 1990. We can discuss this incident in its own right in a future video, but just for further context, in this incident Carina Lau was kidnapped by the gangster Chen Hui Min[7] while returning home late from a night of celebrating following the wrapping up of one of her movies, she was kidnapped and forcibly photographed nude, the end result of which was then used to blackmail her.

Do not think however that the entertainment industry was complicit in the underworld insurrection into its industry, as it most certainly was not, and attempts were made to push out the toxic influence of organised criminals from their industry. For example,on January the 15th 1992, following the attempted theft of Family Affairs negatives by three men at gunpoint, the “Show Business Against Violence” campaign was launched, in which huge numbers of workers from the industry, from runners to a-list stars such as Jackie Chan began to campaign publicly to draw public attention to the problem. 

This campaigned was ultimately for naught however, as during the early hours of April the 16th 1992, three months after the first Showbusiness Against Violence rally, the industry saw its first gangland murders. Which is where we come back to Anita Mui’s involvement in today’s story.

The Assassination and the Assault

On April the 16th 1992 Cai Ziming[8], Jet Li and Jackie Chan’s[9] then manager was returning to his office in Tsim Tsa Tsui to meet with some international distributors interested in an upcoming film, but he never made it to that meeting. He stood at the entrance to his officer tower, fumbling through his pockets to try to find his security ID when two men approached him silently. Without hesitation one of the men turned to look for passing police patrols, as the other placed a self loading handgun upto the back of Cai Zi Ming’s head, and pulled the trigger. He fell to the floor, and the gunman put 5 more rounds into Cai Zimings chest. The poor man had no chance of recovery, and he was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived on the scene.

A shockwave flew through the Hong Kong movie industry, as in a flash the already parasitic influence of the triads evolved into an altogether more dangerous and serious form. Jet Li, who ironically had been filming The Bodyguard from Beijing at the time, hired extensive private security and bodyguards for himself, and the rest of the industry followed in his footsteps.

Cai Zi Ming was buried on the 4th of May 1992, three weeks after the shooting. His wake turned into a protracted celebration of the man’s life, which eventually saw many of his friends and colleagues, including Anita Mui, head to the Take One karaoke bar on Kent Road in the district of Kowloon Tong. This was an exclusive and expensive establishment frequented only by the rich and powerful of Hong Kong, you couldn’t enter without an invite or membership, and the club only housed small, but lavish private rooms for its VIP clientele. Unfortunately for Anita Mui, this also included the rich and powerful triad lords of the city.

Suddenly, late in the night while Anita Mui was on the microphone a small band of men invited themselves into her room. Only one of them was familiar to her, Huang Pak Ming, the younger brother of the actor and director Raymond Wong Pak Ming. He told Anita Mui that he wanted to introduce her to Huang Lang Wei, a very powerful member of the Hunan Triad who was looking to expand his connections in the entertainment industry. The two talked, exchanged pleasantries, and he left the room shortly thereafter, and all appeared well.

An hour or so later, a large group of ten men burst into the room, and demanded she follow them immediately, as Huang Lang Wei had an urgent and most profitable matter he needed to discuss with her. Realising that she actually had remarkably little say on the matter, she followed the men to Huang Lang Wei’s room, who demanded she assist in the production of an upcoming movie.

Anita Mui stood her ground, and politely explained that she didn’t like discussing business in her spare time, especially not on a night which was supposed to be commemorating a dear friend who had met his fate at the hands of men just like Huang Lang Wei. 

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His previously cordial, if forceful demeanour disappeared in an instant, and he leapt to his feet in a fit of rage, and slapped Anita Mui to the floor with one powerful swipe of his hand, before he then turned and punched her assistant to the ground also.

Chaos erupted in the room. Some of Huang Lang Wei’s[10] goons rushed to his side with puffed out chests and ego’s, eager to earn their bosses favour with a strong show of force, and other, more braver members of his group began delicately encouraging him to remain calm.

The pair were able to safely remove themselves from the room without incurring further beatings, and as she crawled back into her own karaoke room noticeably injured and distressed, her group began frantically thinking of anyone who they could recruit to try and calm the matter down. Eventually they found Xiang Huaqing, the owner of another production company who was able to calm Huang Lang Wei down… for now.

The Fallout:

            Immediately after the situation was de-escalated Anita Mui confided in her friend Chen Yao Xing, The Tiger of Wanchai two hours after the assault. He, understandably, was indescribably furious upon hearing the news and immediately stormed back to the Take One Karaoke Bar, burst into Huang Lang Wei’s room and demanded an audience and an explanation from him. He would not get it however, Huang Lang Wei had already left, and in furious desperation he turned to the remaining men in the room and told them he would be back for revenge, before slamming the door behind him and taking his leave.

            Two days later on May the 6th Chen Yao Xing[11] was resting at his house when his phone rang: Huang Lang Wei had been spotted at a Dim Sum restaurant in Wan Chai… HIS turf. The furious anger that had consumed him two nights prior reignited in an instant, and he immediately raced out of the door to confront Huang Langwi, pausing only to grab a large kitchen knife on his way out.

            Full of hate and adrenaline he soon found himself at the restaurant, but paused for a brief moment to catch his breath. He then pulled up the hood on his jacket, twisted the large kitchen knife around as to hide its blade behind his forearm and entered the restaurant. Calmly he advanced inside and paced up the restaurant until he found Huang Lang Wei eating with 5 associates, and without hesitation he flipped the knife around and slashed at Huang Lang Wei several times with the hate of a man possessed by a demon – then fled the scene before anyone surrounding him could react and attempt to restrain him.

            Huang Lang Wei was alive, but messed up. His left arm, with which he had instinctively reached out to try to block the incoming attacks, had been rendered clean of flesh in places and cut down to the bone, and as a result he was losing a hell of a lot of blood. He was raced across Victoria Harbour to The Baptist Hospital in Kowloon Tong where his condition was stabilised, and he was moved from the Emergency Care Unit to a recovery ward on the 8th floor.

He proved surprisingly popular over the following days, and received several visitors of note. The first, shockingly, was from the police. Huang Lang Wei was a man bound by his criminal code, so said nothing about his attacker to the police:

“He was just some crazy guy”

“He was trying to mug me”

“F*ck knows what he wanted, ask him when you catch him!”

He of course knew exactly who had attacked him, but as the triads say:

“The rivers and lakes are about the rivers and lakes.”[12]

He received his next visitors at 5am on the morning of May the 7th. Two men approached a nurse on his ward and said they’d like to visit their dear friend, and wish him a speedy recovery. Since it was so early in the day the nurse began to object and ask them to come back later, but after some emotional pleading the men managed to acquire his room number, and the nurse decided to turn her back for a few moments. Afterall, what was the harm? It’s not like anyone had to attend to him for a few hours.

It turns out, the potential for harm was actually quite high, as a few short moments after the door closed behind the men five shots rang out in quick succession. The staff on the ward, understandably, dared not try to intervene, being fully aware of their patients triad connections and remained hidden until the men promptly left of their own accord.

They called the police and inspected Huang Lang Wei to see if he could be saved… Shockingly, he was still alive, if only barely, and after doing what they could to stabilise his condition he was moved under police escort to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which was better equipped to handle such extensive and violent trauma. Ultimately however, they were unable to save him and he succumbed to his wounds shortly after arrival, two days after slapping Anita Mui.

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At this point in today’s story ladies and gentlemen you are probably entertaining the exact same questions that consumed Hong Kong in the wake of the shooting: Who were the gunmen, and did Anita Mui have anything to do with it?

The court of public opinion at the time certainly decided she was complicit, believing the timing of the shooting, only two days after she was assaulted by Huang Lang Wei to be far too coincidental.

Anita Mui and her boyfriend Lin Guo Bin[13] were “invited” by the police to “assist” in their investigation, and much to my, and potentially yourselves in the audiences’ shock, the pair were found completely innocent, with watertight alibis, and questionable abilities to actually organise the killing beyond associations with a few dodgy show business figures.

Naturally, Chen Yao Xing, The Tiger of Wanchai became the focus of the investigation following Anita Mui and Lin Guo Bin’s exoneration, having been ID’d by several witnesses who were present at the dim sum restaurant when he attacked Huang Lang Wei prior, and he was immediately arrested and brought in for questioning.

After a very heated, and publicly played out police investigation, in which 200 people surrounded the police station where Chen Yao Xing was being detained and demanded his arrest, he was eventually released on bail pending further investigation.

The police investigation continued, and after Anita Mui submitted to a full investigation of her and Chen Yao Xing’s relationship, including phone records and interviews with associates the police concluded that Chen Yao Xing committed the assassination in the name of “Xing Duo” (to make a name for himself). Anita Mui’s assault was simply an excuse to make a name for himself, he wasn’t driven by lust, revenge, or any other emotion besides self aggrandisement.

Ultimately, despite the belief of the police in Chen Yao Xing’s complicity in the assassination, there wasn’t enough evidence to nail him for it, and he was charged with aggrivated assault for the attack at the dim sum restaurant, and given a suspended sentence in light of the attack on Anita Mui carried out by the victim.

As much as the public was very much on Anita Mui and Chen Yao Xing’s side, the unwanted extra focus was bringing great stress to Anita Mui and Lin Guo Bin, who both left for a long holiday to Thailand to help forget the incident, and help the dust settle before they returned to Hong Kong.

The dust did indeed settle, and for a time the Hong Kong movie scene was without any major violent incident or triad controversy… but not for long.

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The Grand Prix Shooting

Fast forward to November the 21st, 1993, and life was returning to normal for Chen Yao Xing. Chen, part time triad lord, part time racing driver, found himself in Macau to drive in the Grand Prix, and was out celebrating with a friend after a second place finish that day.[14] The two men were stumbling down the steps of the New World Emperor Hotel after a long night of partying and gambling, ready to fall into their beds and await the foul hangover that would come to punish them for their night of vice.

They would not make it back to their hotels however, because as soon as the final door on their car closed, three motorbikes swung out from a distant road and screeched to a halt beside the car. The riders pulled out submachine guns, emptied their magazines into the car, and made their escape before the last cartridge had even landed on the ground.

Both men died immediately. After conducting a rigorous investigation the Macau Police had absolutely no leads: they couldn’t find any prints on the many cartridges that littered the scene, the killers dodged all CCTV cameras when making their escape, and no one came forward with any information.

The following day, the police receive a call from a man claiming to be Huang Langhui, Huang Lang Wei’s brother, who said that he was ready to divulge all in order to avenge his younger brother. He gave a list of executions he claimed to have been carried out by Chen Yao Xing, and claimed that his surviving organisation was furious and out for revenge.

Anita Mui, who was becoming (understandably) increasingly paranoid after hearing about her friends shooting, and being warned of uncomping violence by the Hong Kong Police, went into hiding in one of the more unknown and discrete properties in her portfolio in North Point on Hong Kong Island, hoping that the Fukienese community there, and their… “different” criminal circles would offer a certain layer of protection. The Hong Kong Police provided round the clock armed protection, on the condition that she cut her social activities outside to near zero. She also terminated her contract for the movie Modern Call Girl which was imminently due to enter production, at an estimated cost of $10,000,000 HKD ($1,200,000 USD).

She stayed in hiding for several months… and nothing happened. There was no further violence that appeared repository against and eventually she began to feel secure that her life was in danger.

She began gradually reducing her police security detail and beginning to return to her normal life as she regained her confidence. Eventually the shooting and violence that had so furiously surrounded her for that short time seemed like a distant memory, and she fully returned to her normal public life.

The police never arrest or charge anyone for Chen Yao Xing’s death, and to this day the case remains unsolved.

Dismembered Appendices.

  • Something worth clearing up just in case it isn’t clear in today’s episode, none of the celebrities mentioned in today’s episode were actually in league with criminals themselves. The triads in this period that infested the industry were seen as absolute parasites by the actual talent of the day, but a very powerful and frankly terrifying parasite that could bring great personal harm to themselves should they challenge its authority. They just wanted to ply their trade, and shook the hands that needed shaking to go about doing so in the most peaceful way possible. The same could not be said about the executives however, plenty of whom were as bent as a nine bob note, maybe we will go into this in more detail in a future episode…
  • Speaking of future episodes, what do you in the audience think about an episode focusing on Chen Yao Xing in the future? We didn’t get the chance to explore him in much detail today, and I can’t help but think that a Triad Lord who moonlights as a racing driver has to be an interesting subject for a video.
  • Barring a few interviews given immediately after the events, Anita Mui pretty much never publicly commented on the matters discussed today. She didn’t want the stain on her public profile that came from incorrect assumptions being made about her connections to organised crime, and what’s more she simply wanted the whole traumatic and stressful episode buried so that she could get back on with her life.
  • I thoroughly recommend everyone listening to take the time to delve into Anita Mui’s work when they have the time, because she was a cracking singer and actor in her day. For those who’d like their heart rendered from their chest and left in tears after riding an emotional rollercoaster I would recommend Rouge (1987), and for those who’d like a comedy I’d recommend Drunken Master II (1994) as discussed in a previous footnote. For those interested in her music, her final Cantonese album With is incredible!

[1] For anyone wanting to see one of these comedies, I personally recommend Drunken Master II, a 1994 movie starring Jackie Chan and coincidentally Anita Mui, in which Jackie plays a Qing era martial arts master who becomes significantly more deadly when off his face drunk.

[2] Anita May

[3] Herman Yow (As in How)

[4] Andy Low (As in How) – there’s actually several different ways to pronounce this one depending on the character used, aren’t tonal languages fun!

Slight tangent on the matter of tones in Cantonese. Gau, depending how its pronounced can mean either the number 8, or c*nt depending on how the tone is carried. Likewise Hai can mean either yes, or vagina. As someone who natively speaks Yorkshire English, and therefore is in the habit of slurring my vernacular by default, you can imagine the issues this caused when I was fresh off the boat in Hong Kong!

[5] Jet Lee – figured you may know this one but no harm being safe!

[6] Carine Low (As in How)

[7] Chen Hu-oy (As in Boy) Min (As in Bin)

[8] Kai (As in bye) Zee Ming

[9] This LEGEND needs no pronunciation guide.

[10] H-Wang Lang Way

[11] Chen Yow (As in how) Shing (But hold the “sh”)

[12] Or as we Yorkshiremen say: “You can’t make me say nothing copper I aint no grass, I know my rights init, do one mush”

[13] Lin Gwo Been

[14] Chen Yao Xing was eventually stripped of his podium finish after illegal modifications were found on his car – shocking that Triad Lords don’t make honest sportsmen.

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