Law With Two Phases (1984)
by: Danny Lee
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1985:
The typecasting of and by Danny Lee start here...
Over the years, Danny Lee has shown skill for dramatic acting in such films as City On Fire and The Killer but it was Law With Two Phases that really lit up Danny's road to bigger opportunities. Awarded the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor, Danny Lee's police-drama comes with a rough surface but underneath that, questions are brewing that in the end makes the film take on a life of good proportions.
Veteran cop B (Danny Lee) gets a new partner, a rulebook worshipping rookie Kit (Eddie Chan). Kit immediately clashes with B regarding his particular way of police procedure but along the way, in an attempt to capture two different and dangerous sets of gangs, tragedy strikes for B in a shooting that leaves a 6 year old boy dead. Now devoid of confidence but an urge to at least capture the one criminal who caused all this, namely Blacky (Parkman Wong), a childhood friend of B's, the two cops meet on the same level of dealing with justice and goes after the gangs...
Law With Two Phases feels a lot like 80s Hong Kong cinema would at the time, mainly referring to action movies. Director Lee very late concerns himself with a plot and seems to just wander between situations for an whole hour. That has a purpose as he sets up the cop character arcs that do not feel in any way fresh, but probably did a little bit more back in 1984, but by doing a gritty drama instead, feelings of clichés as flaws are never really evoked. The two distinctly different cops leads to the questions underneath the narrative that are very much up for a post-movie discussion, even today.
There's clear hints that the society around the cops are reacting to the harsh violence towards criminals. Here, director Lee, without really answering, evokes questions concerning why cops are scolded for their actions, what has led up to this and is it the only way to deal with a criminal society that can not set itself on an upward spiral anymore? This makes Law With Two Phases a very grim story to follow because it seems like following a straight, rulebook line is in no way possible. That notion rings even more true when tragedy strikes. Contrasting him is of course Kit, the rookie and straightlaced cop who wants nothing to do with any behavior outside of the rulebook. But early on, he is drawn into B's way of procedure and for better or worse, we will see what it leads up to in terms of justice being handed out.
Lee handles the mentioned thematic well when you look back at the movie but the overall execution detracts from what could've been an incredibly powerful tale. He deserves kudos for wanting to firmly establish characters but he's done with that after roughly half the film and still continues as slowly as he can towards a main plot device. His only real story otherwise in the film is a pretty standard chase and fight against the brutal triads which makes Law With Two Phases seem more standard than the higher aspirations it actually has. We've seen much of drugdealing, robbery and brutal beatings in other movies with LESS aspiration so Lee doesn't interest fully throughout. However when he drastically changes moods, it's another superb example of how Hong Kong filmmakers, via small, low-budget means, can really stun the audience with acts of bloodshed and violence. The characters from this point are clearly on a non-return trajectory towards darkness so they go on a rampage with nothing to lose. Again, it doesn't interest much in terms of plot but Lee otherwise really broad character B gets some depth to him after his life is basically destroyed. Lee shows the acting side that was going to win him even more respect subsequently and here it's the quiet, reserved nature to him that wins him the praise by me. It's not an thoroughly impressive performance since it leans sometimes more towards comedy but he eventually, wisely, changes his perspective in the performing of B to deliver quality throughout the duration of the film.
Technically and visually, director Danny Lee possesses less of the refined pacing skills but infuses the film with a gritty realism that largely works. Shooting at run down urban Hong Kong locations enhances and one particular scene involving Tai Po doing drugs is an excellent, vivid example of this. Going back to acting, we find serviceable performances from Eddie Chan and Parkman Wong respectively. Eddie of course goes from the well-dressed young cop to a more proactive and dirty one like B and while the performance is not mindblowing, it's an interesting change of looks, affected by the surroundings and nature of society, that Kit goes through. Parkman Wong doesn't get much to work with but is watchable as the the gang leader that B grew up with and his recollection of their childhood together gets him nowhere with B either. There's no remorse in the wrongdoing he causes along the way but those hints at their history together produces decent drama towards the climax. Tai Po makes the most of his supporting role as the drug addicted informant of B's. If anyone is clearly doomed beforehand, it's him but nevertheless, he gets slight sympathy because of the abuse he's sometimes wrongfully has to has to go through.
Danny Lee's Law With Two Phases is rough filmmaking for sure but it does produce a lasting effect on you through its drama during the second half and the questions about justice that can be found when digging a little deeper. By no means a classic but a work that marks Danny Lee's beginnings towards a choosen typecasting and respect as a dramatic actor.
Universe has located a very spotless print that ranks as decent otherwise in terms of colours and detail. A bit too high contrast makes it a little lacking but this 1.85.1 transfer is very watchable, for the price.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix has a few added foley effects that distracts and music is noticeably boosted when used. Dialogue therefore suffers from being drowned out on occasions but otherwise sounds clear. A Mandarin 5.1 track is also available.
The English subtitles feature quite a few errors but does the job decently in the long run. Bahasa (Indonesia), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
Extras consists of one sole Star's File for director/co-writer/actor Danny Lee. Basic info is handed out here but it can be helpful to newcomers. Trailers for Law With Two Phases, Cop Of The Town and The Law Enforcer are also included.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson