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Enter the Phoenix

From left to right: Chapman To, Karen Mok, Eason Chan, Daniel Wu, Stephen Fung and Law Kar-Ying.
Chinese: 大佬愛美麗  
Year: 2004  
Director: Stephen Fung Tak-Lun  
Producer: Willie Chan, Solon So, Jackie Chan
Writer: Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Lo Yiu-Fai  
Action: Ma Yuk-Sing  
Cast: Daniel Wu, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Chapman To Man-Chat, Law Kar-Ying, Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Yuen Biao, Chan Wai-Man, Hiro Hayama, Lee Kin-Yan, Glen Chin, Lee Lik-Chee, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Tin Kai-Man, Maggie Lau Si-Wai, Koey Wong Ka-Man,
The Skinny: Stephen Fung's first feature shows that he might have a decent future as a director of entertaining commercial fare. While not an outstanding film, the fun popstars, genial performances, and good sense of humor make Enter the Phoenix decent fun. The film does lose its way towards the end, and the climactic action sequences are somewhat muddled. However, for director Stephen Fung, this is a good beginning.
by Kozo:

The ballyhooed feature directorial debut of actor Stephen Fung, Enter the Phoenix is possessing of all the hallmarks of easy-to-please commercial cinema. It's got a multitude of popular current stars, piles of nifty name cameos, bursts of HK-style action, jokes up the wazoo, and not an ounce of pretension. It also has a title which has NOTHING to do with the film itself, and instead seems to be a cloying reference to the arrival of some awesome action filmmaking force (like 1998's Enter the Eagles, or perhaps 1978's Enter the Fat Dragon). However, what Enter the Phoenix does have is a remarkably sound comedy script—which recalls Korea's popular gangster comedy genre—and a sense of humor which works more often than it doesn't. Add all that together and you have a marketing package dream that—gasp—succeeds more often than it fails. Enter the Phoenix isn't outstanding cinema, but it gets the job done in a surprisingly entertaining fashion.

Top Hong Kong triad leader Hung (Yuen Biao) is deathly ill, so he sends trusted lieutenant 8th Master (Law Kar-Ying) to go find his son Georgie (Daniel Wu), who's living in Thailand. Hung intends for Georgie to serve as Big Brother to the Triad, but there's just one wrinkle: Georgie is gay. Luckily 8th Master and son Kin (Chapman To) are well aware of this unpopular factoid—they offer to keep Georgie's secret safe in exchange for his travel to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they get the wrong guy: they mistake Georgie's roommate Sam (Eason Chan) for Georgie, and offer him Big Brother status, which happens to be Sam's biggest dream EVER. To fulfill his adolescent desire to lord over triad types, Sam begs Georgie to pull an identity switch, which Georgie first objects to. However, when Hung kicks the bucket, Georgie pretends to be Sam and heads to Hong Kong to attend his father's funeral.

In Hong Kong, things get dicier. Apparently, there was some bad history betwee Hung and triad rival/brother Fai (Chan Wai-Man, the official "triad boss" actor). A long time ago, the two were at odds over the death of one of their comrades. The conflict was resolved, but not without a price: the dead man left a bitter young son, who's grown into the intense Chow (Stephen Fung), who's now Fai's right-hand enforcer. Chow apparently hasn't forgiven Hung for his father's demise, and is all-too-ready to transfer the blame onto Georgie—or Sam, who he thinks is Georgie. Meanwhile, everyone thinks Georgie is straight, a ruse which isn't that hard to keep up since Sam (who's playing Georgie) is straight. The sexual identity shenanigans get even weirder when Fai's daughter Julie (Karen Mok) enters the picture. Fai looks upon Julie as a potential marital offering to Georgie, who everyone believes to be straight, which he is, but 8th Master and Kin believe otherwise. Julie, however, has her eye on Sam, who openly says he's gay, except he's really Georgie. Got it?

Probably not. The wacky sitcom setup of Enter the Phoenix is difficult to put into words because it involves so much mistaken identity and double deceptions, but onscreen it's easy and even enjoyable to follow. This is largely due to the actors, who—aside from all being pals of director Stephen Fung—bring self-deprecating charm and good comic timing to the table. Daniel Wu, in particular, is likable and charming as the gay kung-fu artist who doesn't really want to be a triad leader. Eason Chan chimes in with his usual bouts of overacting, but his antics are largely consistent with the character. Chan thankfully varies his performance such that he's a likable, dopey comic lead. Karen Mok oozes sexy-cute comic charm as the nominal female, and Chapman To and Law Kar-Ying provide terrific support. Those looking for a film starring popular current idols/popstars will be happy with Enter the Phoenix. And for those who like old-time actors, there's the presence of Yuen Biao, which is a big deal because Yuen Biao rarely appears in anything released theatrically anymore.

Further helping things is the script by Stephen Fung and Lo Yiu-Fai, which is loaded with screenwriting shortcuts, but manages to entertain nonetheless. The film mines typical triad themes of righteousness and honor, and throws in stuff about friendship (Georgie and Sam vow to be the best of pals), parental duty (Fai neglects the needs of his loving daughter Julie), and tolerance of those who are different (Gay people can make fine triad leaders). Thankfully, most of the above syrupy subplots are handled with minimum sappiness and maximum charm by the performers. Fung was wise to put so much on his cast of pals, because they bring a fun chemistry and wit to the proceedings that the usual Wong Jing band of misfits usually doesn't. Not that the actors can always cover for Fung's manufactured piecemeal storyline. The abundance of subplots and character relationships sometimes slows the film to a crawl, and indeed the film seems to limp towards its final action finale. However, this is largely fun stuff.

If there are any real debits to Enter the Phoenix, they would be the sometimes muddled action (which is sometimes darkly lit and poorly edited), and the performance of Stephen Fung, who oozes schoolboy menace as bad guy Chow. Fung has usually been better in roles which emphasize his shallowness (think Bishonen), or play up his cartoony machismo (i.e., the Gen-X Cops series). Enter the Phoenix is largely a cartoony film, so his glowering bad guy routine suffices, but he's as convincingly intense as a ninth grader in detention. Still, as a director, he comes through nicely, and displays a handle on pacing and storytelling that shows definite promise. As a calling card for future commercial cinema director Stephen Fung, Enter the Phoenix is good stuff, especially if he can continue to coerce his pals into appearing. Aside from the main cast, Fung gets fun cameos out of Sam Lee, Sammi Cheng, and most especially Nicholas Tse, in a hilarious turn as a too-tough triad dude who gets his comeuppance. All told, this is fun, likable, throwaway stuff that won't win awards, but should charm the popstar chasers who constitute the majority of HK Cinema's current fanbase. You know who you are. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1
Cantonese DTS 5.1
Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image courtesy of JCE Movies, Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen