A little local difficulty

Disbelief as US blockbuster runs into problems with Hong Kong gangsters

Candice Zhao w

Looking out for the triads? Candice Zhao stars in Bay’s latest movie

“I was just in the Forbidden City, and people were taking pictures of me,” Michael Bay told the New York Times in April, suggesting that the film director is a reasonably recognisable figure when he travels the world. “People know who you are,” he admitted.

But Bay received a different kind of treatment in Hong Kong, where he has been filming the latest Transformers instalment.

Last week two local men approached the Hollywood director on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Quarry Bay. Allegedly, the two brothers demanded money, attempting to extort payment of about $13,000. In the ensuing argument the older brother, wielding an air-conditioning unit as a weapon, tried to hit the director. Bay wrote later on his blog that he “ducked, threw the unit on the floor and pushed him away”.

Then security arrived on the scene. “It was like a zombie in Brad Pitt’s movie World War Z – he lifted seven guys up and tried to bite them,” Bay wrote. Yet he sounded unfazed by the experience. “After that, we had a great day shooting here in Hong Kong. The place couldn’t be better.”

Then again, Bay was later spotted at a local chiropractor, presumably to relieve some of the stresses and strains provoked by the incident.

Both his assailants were immediately charged with assault, with local newspapers positing that the two brothers have connections to triad gangs (although in court this week they said they were the owners of the Hang Fat Air Conditioner and Water Electrical Company). The media has speculated that they wanted a ‘compensation fee’ for the disruption caused to local businesses by the filming.

Bay’s trouble in Hong Kong didn’t end there. According to Apple Daily, when filming moved to Shum Shui Po, a densely packed neighbourhood in Kowloon, a flower pot and a plastic water bottle were mysteriously thrown onto the set from a nearby building. No one was injured but local onlookers blamed a “lunatic” in the habit of throwing objects out of his windows.

Then on Wednesday, another suspected triad member tried and failed to shake-down Bay’s film crew, this time in To Kwa Wan. The 35 year-old man was also arrested.

Andrew Lau, vice president of the Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild, admitted that he was puzzled by last Thursday’s attack on the Hollywood filmmaker. “This is a very odd incident that I have never seen before,” he told the city media. “Who would dare to assault a film director? This would only happen maybe 20 years ago.”

Hong Kong has become a favourite location for many Hollywood productions who want to use the city as an exotic backdrop and at the same time appeal to the growing number of Chinese moviegoers. Several blockbusters have filmed scenes in Hong Kong over the last decade, including Batman: The Dark Knight and Johnny English Reborn. The city also made brief cameos in Battleship and Pacific Rim (in both films it’s under siege by aliens, naturally enough). Michael Mann was also in Hong Kong a few months ago to shoot his new film Cyber.

Wu Siyuan, the president of the Hong Kong Filmmakers Association, now worries that the triad incident could undermine the city’s global image. But he told NetEase Entertainment that most Hollywood studios hire local producers to help navigate issues relating to locations so these incidents are very rare.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents are looking forward to crossing paths with Transformers A-list cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, and China’s Li Bingbing. Star spotters may also notice newcomer Candice Zhao. She is one of four performers chosen from tens of thousands of hopefuls to play a supporting role in Transformers 4 (they were selected via a reality TV contest aired on CCTV’s Movie Channel in September). According to the Hollywood Reporter, Zhao, a former winner of the 35th Miss Bikini International Pageant China, will play a “sexy goddess” in the new film.

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