At the murder trial of eight suspects in Shenzhen last week, details emerged that only added to the impression that real life was being scripted by an imaginative screenwriter. The alleged mastermind: Yeung Ka-on, a former TV actor turned property developer. But Yeung said he had only passed on an envelope from an organized-crime kingpin in Taiwan named Chen (Brother Abalone) Chun-chieh. Prosecutors say the envelope, which contained a photo and information about the victim, made its way to alleged mob boss Lau Yat-yin, accused of having its contents—and $50,000—delivered to two assassins from Hunan province. As the three-day trial wrapped up on Friday—the verdict will be given at a later date—an attorney for Yang Wen, the accused shooter, told reporters his client had admitted killing the tycoon and believed he should be executed for it.
Dramatic murders are a staple of Hong Kong's courts and media. Last year, the city was mesmerized by the trial of Nancy Kissel, an American expat convicted of drugging her banker husband with a poisoned milkshake and bludgeoning him to death. But despite its gangster lore and its flair for B-movie-style killings, the city of 7 million has one of the world's lowest homicide rates. Murders plummeted from 102 in 1997 to just 34 last year, in part perhaps because the city's gangs have shifted some of their focus to southern China. "Occasionally you have a case that's quite grim," says Roderic Broadhurst, a criminologist at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who studies Hong Kong homicides, but "the rate is still pretty low." Most of Hong Kong's murders, it seems, still only happen in the movies.