In another look at the Chinese criminal underworld, it’s Wan Broken tooth Huok-koi who grabs attention as a triad boss who not only made it to the top of one on the most notorious triads but was so proud of his achievements he produced a blockbuster filmed based on his life.
Wan Huok-koi, also known by his mandarin name Yin Guoju, was born in 1955 in the slums of Macau. Like many others suffering from a harsh childhood he quit school early and worked menial jobs before entering the world of crime. As a teenager he formed a petty gang called the Seven Little Kids who terrorized their neighborhood, conducted minor crimes, and began to take territory from the triads. It was around this time that Wan earned his name “broken tooth” after breaking his front tooth while crashing a stolen car.
He eventually joined with the most powerful Triad of Macau, the 14k, as a “soldier” but most of his activities were involved in gambling and confrontations with other Triad gangs. While moving up the ranks of the 14k – which was unsurprising to many as Wan is described as sharp, intelligent, and ambitious – he survived multiple assassination attempts. However, in one such attempt involving a machete he lost the use of several of his fingers. Regardless of some prison stints in both the 1970’s and 1980’s Broken Tooth continued to scale the ladder of 14k and was put in charge of operating several legitimate fronts for the triad including hotels, bars, and restaurants.
Still Wan wasn’t satisfied with his success and began working with another gangster. Ng Wai on a plan to overthrow the old dragon head (Triad boss) of the 14k, Mo Ding Ping. Mo Ding Ping caught wind of the plot and fled Macau enabling Ng Wai and Wan Huok-koi to take power. At this point Wan took over the enforcement branch of 14k, though his favorite haunt continued to be the casinos: at one point he apparently lost two hundred thousand USD in under 30 minutes playing Baccarat. Still, Wan did not rest on his laurels; when other Triad leaders began to threaten his position he struck back, examples being the shooting up of rival triad leader Shoi Fang’s house and ordering a hit on the Macau Gambling Inspectorate.
Soon Broken tooth was no longer content to be working under Ng Wai and by the mid 1990’s quickly made it clear to him, specifically by shooting up Ng Wai’s new casino on opening night. At that point Ng Wai, under threat from assassins, fled from Macau and Wan took over as the 14k Dragon Head. While the 14k was undeniably powerful, the total amount of power that Broken Tooth possessed continues to be debated, with estimates ranging from control of a few hundred people to over ten thousand. Still gang violence during this period continued to increase as the Triads sought to control more of Macau, hoping to be the one in power when the PRC officially reclaimed the island in 1999.
It’s one thing to say that someone’s life sounds like a movie and its another when the person in question then goes ahead and makes a movie of their own life. Not only did Wan bankroll 1.7 million USD for Casino, the movie based on his life (he was credited as producer), but he also sat for a series of research meetings for the film-making team. They ended up casting the famous Hong Kong actor Simon Yam to play the role of Wan. Broken Tooth also assisted in the film-making itself – literally closing down Macau’s main bridge at rush hour to film a procession of cars and letting the crew film a gang brawl directly outside Macau’s police headquarters. He also ensured that the movie was filmed in general, since Macau never approved the filming license application submitted for the movie.
But Wan’s enjoyment of his cinematic fame was to be short-lived, he had made the mistake of targeting civilians close to other Triad leaders, and the deaths of a police investigator, nurse, and high profile business man convinced the Macau government to finally take action against Broken Tooth. On May 1st 1998, hours after the attempted murder of Macau’s Police director Antonio Marques Baptista by car bomb, Wan was finally arrested. Interestingly enough, at the time Broken Tooth was watching an early release of the film Casino in one of the many casino’s he controlled. Wan was charged with money laundering, loan sharking, and being a gang leader. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in Coloane prison which, reportedly, had been specially built with high security specifically for Wan and some of his followers. However, even after his arrest Broken Tooth continued to have influence on criminal affairs in Macau. While the suggestion that Wan was operating triad business from his prison cell remain unconfirmed, there were a series of firebombings throughout Macau after his arrest and 24 separate cases of arson that destroyed storefronts throughout the city.
Wan was released from prison in 2012 after serving 14 years of his 15 year sentence and at that time swore to the media and government that he had ended his life of crime, however instead of fading into obscurity his story continues. In 2015 Wan was reported to have opened a VIP gambling room in one of the Macau’s many casinos catering to gambling elite, which three days ago was actually hit by an internal theft of around $1 million HKD. If nothing else, Wan will be a strange story of the Macao underground for decades to come.
Cover image from NeedPix