As I write this, the “British Psycho” story is just breaking, and all eyes are on Hong Kong expats’ hedonistic lifestyles. It’s a bizarre coincidence that just 24 hours before the murders, I am on assignment investigating the rarified nightlife enjoyed by Hong Kong’s wealthy Westerners, on a private bus trundling from Hong Kong’s financial district to a warehouse near the docks of Aberdeen.
The tone of the evening is established early. Mark, the photographer, and I have just taken our seats when the tuxedoed duo behind us starts discussing the perks of doing business in Asia.
“It’s one of those cabarets where you have to choose a girl. But I can never choose just one; I need an entourage.”
“Yeah, I mean, do you want the great tits or the nice ass?”
Our destination is a secret, but once there we are promised booze, girls, “adult entertainment,” thick dry-aged steaks, and an illegal, no-holds-barred, underground bare-knuckle boxing match.
There was buzz that the event would be hosted by The Butcher’s Club, one of Hong Kong’s hottest and most over-the-top restaurant groups. Marketed only by the name “Fight Club,” the event is limited to 120 men who eagerly shelled out the HK$30,000 (the equivalent of $3,870 in American currency) for a ringside table. Black tie is mandatory, and aside from the strippers and “ring babes,” there are no women allowed.
We arrive at a warehouse where Chinese workers are loading loaves of bread into trucks. On the roof, a proper boxing ring had been erected under a white tent, surrounded by tables with bottles of wine, cognac, and Scotch.
The women—the strippers, ring girls, and their boss, as well as the cigar girls and one female member of the restaurant staff—sit around the periphery in slinky cocktail dresses. But it is the fighters—advertised as bare-knuckle boxers and flown in specially for the event from the UK—with their full body tattoos and bulging muscles who seem most out of place.
It quickly becomes clear that, along with the chefs, the fighters are by far the nicest people here. The first, Andy Cona from Newcastle, is even donating all of his winnings this year to a young girl with cancer and has arranged for a bucket to be passed around so the wealthy diners can donate.*
His opponent, Kevin Reed from Wales, is all earnest sweetness and lingering eye contact. Later, he seems genuinely contrite after he breaks Andy’s rib and smashes his cheekbone.
The evening kicks off with appetizers and stand-up comedy. Everyone tucks into their slow-cooked rabbit, foie gras, and pork belly with house-made brioche and quince jam, laughing easily at jokes about how rich they are. They crane their necks and look around when the comedian points out the lone black person in the audience—“I’ve been here for three years and you’re the first one I’ve seen”—and love the stuff about how few Chinese people are present—”must be good security!”
But the jokes they really go wild for are about women. Hands shoot up when he asks them how many are married, and stay up when he asks how many are fucking girlfriends on the side.
In between the comedians, the steak course is served: thick-cut, grain-fed, 34-day dry-aged rib-eye steaks served with triple-cooked duck fat, apple-tarragon ketchup, beer and horseradish mustard, and Béarnaise sauce. The steak is the best in Hong Kong, and comes from an Australian herd of steers privately owned and raised by the restaurant group.
I go downstairs to pee and give my soul some time to heal. At the urinal, a swaying head in a bowtie peeks over the divider and tells me I have a “nice cock.”
Needless to say, it’s starting to dawn on me that all of these guys might be assholes.
Unable to take more comedy, I join the fighters as they prepare for the match and watch as two men nervously approach Andy, offering their hands and wishing him good luck. As soon as the fighter’s back is turned, they congratulate themselves on their bravery, laughing, “That one’s a right Neanderthal.”
The fight does not go as planned.
“Hit him in the vagina!” yells a swaying onlooker, snifter of cognac in hand.
The first round, fought in gloves, is uneventful—shouts to bring out Destiny, the stripper, constantly interrupt the action—but early in the second round, a hook to the body leaves Andy sprawled on the canvas. The crowd loudly wonders if he’s faking. Then he starts spitting blood.
They stand and give him an unsteady ovation as he is led away. It’s all over in a few minutes.
Soon the injured man convalescing downstairs is forgotten and the tent again fills with cries for Destiny.
Dessert is served—mature Scottish cheddar and Gorgonzola cheese with chutney, and apple crumble pie with whiskey crème anglaise—and the stripper takes the stage, dancing and contorting on a folding chair in the middle of the ring, stripping rapidly down to her bedazzled pasties.
As she dances, negotiations are ongoing with Andy downstairs. Ribs broken and barely able to stand, he wants to “give the people a show.” The organisers agree to bring him back out, against the advice of the medic and referee, for the promised bare knuckle brawling.
The ill-advised fight goes as expected; with every exertion, Andy grunts and groans. Within a minute a punch has left him collapsed, curled on his side against the ropes bellowing in pain. This time, minutes pass before he is able to move, and when he is finally carried from the ring he leaves behind a slick puddle of blood.
The show is over.
All photos by Mark James.
Diners hurry to finish what booze they can or clamber into the ring, jumping from the ropes and wrestling their friends. A few lean in close, drunkenly peering at the pool of blood.
The stragglers are still yelling “Destiny!” in the elevator when we leave. In front of the warehouse, a drunk in shirtsleeves is trying to goad one of the boxers into a fight.
Before heading off, I teach one of the fighters how to shotgun a beer, and in thanks he slips a pill into my hand which I forget about entirely until now, as I sit down to write this story. It’s still in my pocket. It’s a Cialis, the 48-hour boner pill.
*By the end of the night, Hong Kong’s elite will manage to donate just under $13 per person.