Michael Bay's Air-Conditioner Assailants Plead Not Guilty to Extorting 'Transformers' Crew
Two brothers charged with trying to extort Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction crew during a shoot in Hong Kong last October have pleaded not guilty in the local district courts.
The siblings -- Mak Chi-shing, 27, and Mak Chi-hang, 28 -- own an air-conditioning and appliance shop near where Bay and his Paramount Pictures crew were shooting on Oct. 17 last year.
Hong Kong's judiciary announced last week that live text-based communication would be permitted in courtrooms, allowing local press to live-tweet the proceedings of the Transformers extortion case on Tuesday.
Prosecutors allege the Maks tried to shake Bay and his crew down for $13,000 in exchange for not disrupting the shoot. After the filmmakers refused, the older brother picked up an air conditioning unit and threw it at Bay's head. Bay ducked and escaped unscathed while the brothers turned their attacks on police officers responding to the scene. No charges were filed in the alleged attack on Bay, but the two were both later charged with blackmail and assaulting police officers.
Describing what happened on his blog, Bay later wrote: "It took seven big guys to subdue him. It was like a Zombie in Brad Pitt’s movie World War Z -- he lifted seven guys up and tried to bite them. He actually bit into one of the guard's Nike shoes, insane."
Outside the courthouse, police said Bay wouldn't be testifying in Hong Kong, according to a South China Morning Post reporter on the scene.
Tweets of the court proceedings provide a detailed account of what allegedly transpired on the set in October.
Paramount's assistant location manager Cheung Ngo-yeung visited the shooting location before production began and offered to pay the brothers about $100 (800 Hong Kong dollars) as compensation for any small disruption the movie might cause (a fairly standard amount for nearby business not directly impacted, according to local industry insiders). The elder brother negotiated for slightly more -- $130 -- a figure Cheung agreed to. But then the younger brother abruptly demanded $260 instead, which Cheung refused.
"You will not be able to shoot if someone asks you for protection fees tomorrow," the elder brother then said, according to prosecutors.
Cheung replied: "I don't think that will happen."
The elder brother then said, ominously: "Let’s see if you will be blackmailed tomorrow."
Protection fees paid to local organized crime groups, known in Hong Kong as the "triads," were once commonplace in the territory's film industry. But after a heavy crackdown on organized crime in the 1980s, most local filmmakers had assumed such quotidian extortion was a thing of the past. After the incident in October, the president of Hong Kong's Directors Guild responded by calling the episode "just ridiculous," adding that it was "more unusual than hitting the jackpot."
Nevertheless, when Bay's crew showed up to shoot after Cheung's unsuccessful negotiations, the brothers were blasting loud music and demanded $13,000 not to mess with the production, boasting that they would "call other brothers to do something" if they didn't get the cash, the Hong Kong court heard. Cheung then offered about $650 to make the issue go away, but the Maks refused.
Soon five to six local toughs showed up and began consulting with the brothers. They then placed bricks outside their shop in the path of the shoot, to prevent the crew from working. The Paramount team responded by calling the police, and moments later, the elder brother began shouting and came at Bay with the air-conditioner. Bay managed to duck and wrestle his way free, while his crew tackled and briefly subdued the assailant. When the police showed up, the melee re-ignited, and officers suffered minor injuries such as abrasion and muscle straining while trying to bring the brothers down, according to court testimony.
Bay later told local press that the ordeal was "kind of scary" but insisted he would be back to shoot in the city again, adding: "Hong Kong is a very visual city."
The trial will continue in Hong Kong district court throughout the week.