Hong Kong’s history of cops and robbers brought to the fore with latest armed raid. HK robbery films
AK-47-wielding Yip Kai-foon was the city’s most notorious armed robber – stealing around HK$20 million in a spate of violent crimes over more than a decade
For many in Hong Kong, Thursday night’s armed robbery brought back memories of a time when such violent crimes were commonplace in the city.
A 57-year-old man was shot in the chest at a luxury Tsim Sha Tsui watch shop in Thursday’s HK$5.5 million heist, the first time in more than a decade a shot has been fired in a robbery in the city.
Perhaps the most notorious armed robber was “the king of thieves” Yip Kai-foon, whose illicit career made him one of Hong Kong’s most wanted men, and local box office material.
As the mastermind behind several robberies, he fought police using an AK-47 assault rifle, exchanging hundreds of rounds of fire with officers over the years.
The mainland China-born gangster is estimated to have stolen around HK$20 million during his crime spree, a sum that would be worth HK$36 million today. During his incarceration, on multiple occasions, he managed to escape jail and police custody.
His life of crime ended after he was shot in the spine and paralysed during his final shoot-out with police. He is now confined to a wheelchair in Stanley Prison.
Yip began his gun-toting raids in his early twenties, and in October 1984 led a group of five well-organised mainland Chinese robbers in jewellery shop raids. Some years after being convicted he managed to escape jail after fleeing from a toilet at the Queen Mary Hospital where he was receiving treatment. He was thought to have escaped to mainland China.
The robbery in his early 20s was a taste of what he was capable of, and his escape showed of his determination to evade punishment.
Years later, Yip returned to Hong Kong in June 1991 to carry out his most audacious raid yet, getting away with HK$10 million worth of gold and jewellery from five jewellery shops on Mut Wah Street in Kwun Tong. Equipped with AK-47s and pistols, Yip and his gang exchanged around 54 shots.
A violent January 1993 Nathan Road jewellery shop raid bore all the hallmarks of “mastermind” Yip. A South China Morning Post report from the following day captured the chaos: “The gang fired more than 30 shots mostly from the AK-47s, with officers returning 17 shots during several encounters that saw chaos from Mongkok to Hung Hom as bystanders dived for cover and motorists abandoned their vehicles amid the hail of bullets.”
Yip’s crimes are thought to have stretched into Macau, where he was suspected of being involved in an armed heist at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1995.
In his final act, he was rearrested in May 1996 after exchanging gunfire with police in Kennedy Town during an attempt at sneaking back into the territory on a vessel loaded with firearms and explosives. He was sentenced to 30 years’ jail in 1997 after he was convicted of possessing arms and ammunition, using a gun to resist arrest and possessing 1.8kg of explosives. That was added to the remainder of his previous 16-year term but was later reduced to 36 years and three months on appeal.
Yip’s story has inspired several films and one television programme.
The Long Arm of the Law film series (1984-1990) was inspired by the crimes of Yip and his gang.
WATCH: Long Arm of the Law IV: Underground Express
The 1996 film, The King of Robbery, features actor Simon Yam Tat-wah as a gangster who pretended to have mental problems to get transferred to a psychiatric ward, broke out, and joined other criminals in a spree of violent armed robberies.
The 2010 movie, The Most Dangerous Man, tells the story of a man from mainland China who comes to Hong Kong, is forced into a life of crime because people looked down on him, and becomes the most wanted man in the city after a series of armed robberies. Like Yip, the main character also converted to Christianity in prison and sought redemption.
Yip will also be the subject of an upcoming television documentary series from the Crime and Investigation Network. The series will air on Now TV in late March and will follow Yip’s career from his early gangster days to his current position as a disabled prisoner.
The last time shots were fired in a robbery in Hong Kong was in 2004 at a Jockey Club outlet in To Kwa Wan. No one was hurt. Shots were also fired at the same outlet two years earlier, again with no injuries. Police recorded 309 robberies last year, none of which involved a real gun.
The latest high-profile case comes after an audacious HK$36 million theft from a nearby jewellery store in January, in which a teenage girl sneaked behind the counter as colleagues distracted staff.
Additional reporting by Alan Yu
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