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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic tale of a Playboy of the Eastern World, 16 Mar 2008
Like the city in which it's set and the character whose story it tells, this book is by turns appealing and infuriating, exotic and banal, brutally frank and outrageously over-the-top. Peter Hui was, among other things, a playboy, kungfu fighter, wartime collaborator with the Japanese, tailor, tombola operator, triad associate, restaurant manager and mastermind of armed robberies. A slight and dapper man, he was also a great charmer, drinker, gambler and womaniser. "Fooling around" is his favourite expression. He comes over as vain, deceitful, superficial, aggressive, misogynistic and amoral.

But he's also a damn good story-teller. And his life makes a damn good story. Just how true it is, who knows? Somehow, though, the self-portrait that emerges is both entertaining and convincing. And it also amounts to a magnificently entertaining and convincing portrait of Hong Kong itself. Not the stunted Special Administrative Region of today, nor the stuffy British colonial society of yesterday, but the stomach-churning, free-wheeling, money-making, all-singing all-dancing all-horseracing side of Hong Kong as lived by Hong Kong people for most of the 20th century. The real Hong Kong, which has seldom before been captured in print -- at least in English.

All credit then to author Jonathan Chamberlain for not turning off his microphone in disbelief or disgust as his subject, whiling away his lonely and impecunious old age on the outlying island of Cheung Chau, continued his life story night after night with a string of ever more unlikely former careers and conquests - amorous, pugilistic or otherwise. And for not over-editing it afterwards.

Or maybe the author made the whole thing up himself and it's all a brilliant satire on Hong Kong society. In the foreword to the book, David Tang - a better-known and more successful Hong Kong playboy than Peter Hui ever became -- praises Chamberlain for doing Hong Kong social history a great favour. He goes on to call it "a cracking read". And no one could argue with that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The All-time Hong Kong Tale . . ., 8 Jan 2011
Jonathan Chamberlain has done history a great favour; filling in what for many a keen observer is a void in Hong Kong's not-so-distant past.

In KING HUI, he preserves from the sands of time a story like no other; one that weaves its way through the Fragrant Harbour's colourful colonial heritage; a rich tapestry as depicted by an aging `Peter' Hui, a man that at one time owned all the opium in Hong Kong.

". . . Scandal and corruption, drugs and pirates, triads and flower boats; the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the Communist takeover of Canton. Peter Hui was there. He knew everybody and saw everything. This is the real story of Hong Kong, told with the rich flavours of the street . . ."

How true the backcover blurb! But this story is so much more. It's an invitation into the psyche of the Chinese mind. It's where East accommodates West, then fellow East, then West again. It's a rare insight into Hong Kong's idiosyncratic culture and meteoric rise to become the trading capital of the world, as told, rather refreshingly, from the straight-talking perspective of a local witness and without an Orientalist agenda.

It's the story of Peter Hui - revered kung fu fighter, slickly dressed entrepreneur, handsome womaniser, gambler, drinker; friend of the rich, the famous, the powerful . . . as well as the destitute, the deviant and the downright dangerous. But most of all it's a touching story, told with candour and flavoured with nostalgia, from the heart of an endearing old man; one who no doubt realises he is not long left for this world and has a tale he believes should to be told . . .

. . . and when you're compelled to read the last page of this book again and again as I was, head spinning with thoughts and emotions brought to bear by the life of someone you've never even met, you fully appreciate why Jonathan Chamberlain is best placed to tell it.

Chris Thrall is the author of EATING SMOKE: One Man's Descent Into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
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