Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Sound format: Dolby Digital
Teen idol Stephen Fung directed and co-wrote this frothy nonsense - his first solo directorial effort - in which the conventions of 'Triad cinema' are basically turned on their head. Unsurprisingly, Fung tapped Daniel Wu for the leading role, not only because they began their careers together as co-stars in BISHONEN (1998) and have been paired in numerous movies since - including GEN-X COPS (1999) and DEVIL FACE, ANGEL HEART (2002) - but also because Wu is one of the few topline actors in Hong Kong willing to take risks with his screen persona, even in something as innocuous as ENTER THE PHOENIX. Here, he plays a young gay man forging a successful career in Thailand after being exiled many years earlier by his estranged father (screen legend Yuen Biao), the head of a wealthy Triad organization. When Yuen dies, his minions (represented by comic father-and-son duo Law Kar-ying and Chapman To) are ordered to retrieve the boy and establish him as head of the family business, but Law and To mistake Wu's straight roommate Eason Chan for Yuen's absent son, and Wu is happy to play along with the deception, until a childhood rival (played by Fung himself) emerges from the shadows to avenge his father's death at Yuen's hands...
This light-hearted romp touches all the necessary bases, but the results are decidedly mixed. Comedy is emphasized at the expense of drama and tension, and the narrative wanders from scene to scene, without apparent motive, taking a mixed cast of veterans and newcomers along for the ride: Fung and Wu are the nominal stars of the show, and both are fine in their respective roles, but Chan (currently one of HK's most popular lightweight actors) takes center stage as the Chow Yun-fat wannabe whose fantasies of a glamorous Triad lifestyle are shot down in flames by the dangerous reality of life in the firing line. Industry stalwart Michael Chan plays a rival gangster who must preserve the status quo in the wake of Yuen's death, while comedy favorite Karen Mok essays the role of Michael Chan's daughter, a scatterbrained insurance employee who falls for Wu whilst struggling to emerge from her father's shadow (thankfully, this is one gay movie in which the heroine *doesn't* get her man!). Watch out for crowd-pleasing cameo appearances by Nicholas Tse (playing someone with an extremely rude name!), Sam Lee and co-producer Jackie Chan.
Lavishly mounted on a blockbuster budget, the movie is wholly commercial in concept and execution, though the director's lack of confidence is betrayed by some rough edges, including fluffed linking shots and a tendency toward self-indulgence. Fung's lack of experience is further exposed during the various fight scenes (choreographed by action director Ma Yuk-sing), all of which are filmed and edited in a fluid, cinematic style at odds with the surrounding footage, and the rousing climax becomes a celebration of 'wire-fu' as Fung and Wu engage in hand-to-hand combat. In other departments, the wide frame (derived from a Super 35 negative) looks cramped and misaligned in places, and there's a surfeit of close-ups which minimizes the film's visual impact, though novice cinematographer Davy Chow is co-billed alongside veteran Poon Hang-sang (one of the finest DP's in Hong Kong movie history, an old-school technician whose luxurious compositions recall the Technicolor glamour of a bygone era), who was clearly responsible for some of the movie's most striking images, including a superbly rendered sequence in which Chan arrives at the ceremony where he'll be sworn-in as Yuen's successor, filmed in slow motion amidst a sea of umbrellas during a dramatic rainstorm.
The film's 'gay' element is basically a red herring, used as comic relief for the most part, and while some of the material borders on crude stereotype, Wu himself plays the central character with great dignity, reaffirming his status as a gay icon. Ultimately, however, the movie is uneven and disappointing, though redeemed by its energetic cast. If Fung can resist playing to the gallery in future, he might yet prove himself a director of note, far beyond the loyalty of his devoted fan base.
NB. The witty animated icon which accompanies the on-screen title is a particularly nice touch, and wholly typical of this freewheeling extravaganza.