Filming The Sand Pebbles near Sai Kung
In the summer of 1966 I took over as the Officer in Charge of Sai Kung police station. It was regarded as a very good posting, for there was hardly any crime, and the Sai Kung peninsula and its waters were very beautiful. The American film company 20th Century Fox were making The Sand Pebbles, starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Candice Bergen with a young Jackie Chan as a stunt man. They had originally wanted to do part of the film on location in the Yangtse River, but could not get permission to enter China. They found a suitable alternative location in Port Shelter, from where the various islands appeared as a single stretch of land running along along what they represented as the Yangtse River.
The first day’s filming in Port Shelter went well until late in the day, when a lone fisherman in his sampan arrived in the middle of the scene and started ‘fishing’. He refused all requests to leave the area and filming had to stop. The following day, a fleet of about 30 assorted junks and sampans was at the location at first light and claimed that they were fishing in their traditional grounds. They made it quite impossible for filming to start. Later that afternoon, a representative of the film company came to Sai Kung police station and made a complaint to me about the fishermen obstructing the filming. I told him that the fishermen had as much right to be on the sea as 20th Century Fox did, and that he would have to negotiate with them. The following day, the fishermen were nowhere to be seen and filming continued without any further hitch. I made a note in the station report book that the dispute had been settled and informed my HQ in Wong Tai Sin accordingly.
Earlier this year I was playing golf in Oxfordshire, England against a neighbouring club. My opponent worked in the butchery of a local game company, and had just finished his night shift of preparing pheasants, grouse and other game. He looked rather tired, but we began to chat during the round and he revealed that as a boy he had been all over the world with his father who worked for an American film company. He went on to say that his father had told him a story of how fishermen in Hong Kong in the 1960’s brought the filming of The Sand Pebbles to a standstill. His father was tasked with the job of paying ‘compensation’ to the fishermen in Port Shelter, and he had had to go to the bank for the necessary cash. His father told him he had never before held so much money in his hands.
The incident passed off very quietly 50 years ago in those far off 'good old days’; had it occurred in modern times, there would have been TV crews in chartered helicopters flying over the scene broadcasting the whole incident, and calls from Police Headquarters for urgent reports.