The Mad Phoenix (1997)

Reviewed by: shelly
Date: 05/24/2001

A story teller sings and recites the tale of Nam Hoi Sup Sam Long (Tse Kwan-ho), a Cantonese opera playwright, whose rapid success and pathetic decline stretch from the 1930's to the 80's. I'm not a real Clifton Ko/Raymond To fan: their films tend to feel condescending, written "down" to a sentimental, bourgeois level that an imaginary complacent general audience might accept (but "I Have a Date with Spring" was a huge hit in 1994, so what do I know). Mad Phoenix has better performances than most, and is full of winning detail, especially in its Cantonese opera scenes. Tse Kwan-ho, who won a Taiwan Golden Horse best actor award for this performance, is effective as the hero, although his later scenes, following the writer's descent into madness, are merely sentimental. Two brilliant set pieces: Tse and his student reciting an opera scene as they create it, playing all the characters and imitating the orchestra with their voices; and a stunning, somehow touching montage, at the end, of contemporary Hong Kong street people, viewed by the story teller as he walks home. Nice period settings, and fine music: both the original score, by Richard Yuen, and the many opera excerpts which happily decorate the proceedings.

Reviewed by: rolandyu
Date: 04/21/2001
Summary: Enjoyable thinking period

I got this movie from a friend. I traded this movie with a computer program. When I looked at the casts and front cover, I was quite discouraged. But when I watched it, I supposed I was wrong.

This movie tells a very good story in a very good way. It's a life-story of a song and opera writer who is `genius` but stubborn and full of pride.

There are many scenes that touched my heart and made me think. It's not a heavy story, but sometimes it lured me into the mood of the character. It seems so tragic that a `genius` like Kong had gone through such a hard life.

I know this movie is not so popular, but it worths more than many of the new movies with famous casts. This movie shows a good example of the Chinese culture and the nature of human's life.


Reviewed by: KwanHoFans
Date: 01/07/2001
Summary: One of the best HK movies I've ever watched!

"Naam Hoi Sap Saam Long" (a.k.a. "The (Legend of the) Mad Phoenix" or "Nan Hai Shi San Lang" (mandarin translation)) (1996) has to be one of the best Hong Kong films I've ever watched. It is one of those films that gets you thinking afterwards. Stage and film actor Tse Kwan-Ho won the Taiwanese Golden Horse (Asian equivalent of the Academy Awards) Best Actor award in 1997 for his portrayal of the title character.

The legend of the prodigal Cantonese playwright Kong Yu-Kau (1909-1984)(played by Tse Kwan-Ho a.k.a. Xie junhao) is narrated by a storyteller in present-day Hong Kong. The narrator tells of Kong, the thirteenth son of a well-to-do government official in the South Sea region of China. Kong was a brilliant, playful, and defiant boy who loved traditional Cantonese opera. Fast-forward ten years and we find Kong an arrogant, top-of-the-class medical school student. He soon fell in love with his classmate Lily and abandoned a promising career in order to be with her when she left for Shanghai. He returned home to Guangzhou two years later, his clothing in tatters. Unable to continue his medical studies, Kong took up teaching and spent his free time watching Cantonese operas. He regularly frequented performances by one of the leading opera singers of the time, Sit Gok-Seen (played by Leung Hon-Wai a.k.a. Liang Hanwei), and in his spare time, Kong would also compose songs and write plays. His talent was quickly recognized when Sit invited him to join his opera company as playwright, and Kong soon achieved great fame in the field of Cantonese opera.

Kong also developed a notorious reputation for being arrogant and obnoxious, but nevertheless he was still highly sought after as playwright and songwriter. At the height of his career he plucked his niece Mui-Seen (played by So Yuk-Wah a.k.a. Su Yuhua) from life as a bar-girl into the glamour of movie stardom literally overnight. Kong also took the young Tong Dik-Sung (played by Poon Chan-Leung a.k.a. Pan Canliang) under his wing, and teacher and pupil bonded like brothers. Tong would eventually go on to become one of the best known scriptwriters in Hong Kong.

Beneath Kong's gruff and arrogant exterior was indeed a soul with compassion and strong moral values, and when the Japanese invasion was near, he decided to stay and write plays to boost military morale after sending his pupil Tong away to the safety of Hong Kong. His plays about keeping one's virtues and upholding strong moral values in the time of war were not well received by the military whose tastes ran increasingly towards western style cabaret shows. His outspoken nature and temperament, stubbornness, and arrogance made numerous enemies. When the war was over, Kong found himself out of favour with most of the newly established theatre companies and opera houses. Public tastes were changing, yet Kong was unwilling to compromise his artistic ideals to please theatre-going audiences. A chance encounter with Lily, who was now married and who no longer recognized the penniless Kong, brought him such despair that on his train ride back to Guangzhou he attempted suicide by jumping off the train. He barely survived and went mad, but there were times when he would appear to be able to think clearly. Such inconsistencies lead one to wonder if he'd decided to adopt this "craziness" in order to escape the real world which had not been entirely kind to him.

Kong wandered the streets of Hong Kong from around 1950 until his death in 1984. He carried with him rolls of old newspapers and a blank piece of paper on which was written the title to a painting, "White Phoenix on a Snowy Mountain". The painting came alive only with imagination and symbolizes the creativity of a genius that can bless or destruct--creativity that is a gift and the reason for being and creativity that when unfulfilled could undo even the most tenacious and persevering artistic soul. One gets the feeling that Kong is the struggling genius at odds with his time and place.

Kong trod the streets of Hong Kong shoeless. He once placed a prank call in English with the police department to summon a whole troop on account of what he described as a theft. Upon arrival the police found this madman with nothing on him that was worth stealing. Kong told them this: "What I lost was a pair of shoes, but you guys are too chicken-shit to arrest the thieves." When asked who these remarkable thieves might be, he said, "The thief who took my left shoe is called "Englishmen", the one who took my right shoe is called "Japanese"... the Chinese lost their shoes to these foreigners, so now we have nowhere to go!". These comments were far from nonsensical babblings; they reflect his concerns and patriotism towards his native country.

On various occasions, relatives and former friends such as Sit, Tong, and Mui Seen have tried to help Kong re-assert himself and re-connect with life, but to no avail. He was sent multiple times to stay at the Tsing San psychiatric hospital in Hong Kong but was always released on good behaviour. The elderly Kong also spent a number of years living at the Pauline Temple in the outskirts of Hong Kong where his multilingualism made him the perfect tour guide for foreign tourists visiting the temple. Any semblance of normal life that Kong might have re-established were destroyed upon learning about his father's death from starvation as a result of oppression from the Chinese government. Kong lost all hope for life and went back to wandering the streets. He was found frozen to death, shoeless but still clutching his painting of the imaginary white phoenix on the imaginary snowy mountain. The film ends with a touching montage of people from different walks of life, the rich and the poor, the humble and the snobbish, that the narrator encounters on his way home.

[reviewed by KwanHoFans in January 2001; email mannief@hotmail.com]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Nam Hoi Sup Sam Long is a famous Cantonese Opera song writer andplaywright, teacher of another famous playwright Tong Tiu Sun and the official playwright of famous Cantonese Opera actor Sit Kok Sin. Sup Sam Long's life is stuff of legends: during his childhood, he set the headmaster's room on fire due to his sense of justice; in college, he in order to go after the girl he loved abandoned his academics and headed to Shanghai; during World War II, he got into a fight with people in his troupe because he felt the performance was too crass......

[Reviewed by Next Magazine]