Hong Kong superstars Jackie Chan and Andy Lau Tak-wah certainly seem to be sticking to their promises to support up-and-coming talent. Enter the Phoenix, the directorial debut of actor Stephen Fung Tak-lun, is close to completion and scheduled for release on April 8. The film, which stars Daniel Wu as the gay son of a deceased triad kingpin, is wholly financed by Chan and Albert Yeung's JCE Movies. JCE has also co-financed Hainan Chicken Rice, the first mainstream film from promising new director Kenneth Bi, which is now in post-production. Meanwhile, Lau's Focus Group is investing in Jiang Hu, the first mainstream production from independent filmmaker Wong Ching-po, which is currently shooting in Hong Kong. Lau is also starring in the $40 million gangster thriller along with Jacky Cheung Hok-yau and Eric Tsang Chi-wai. Edison Chen Koon-hei and Shawn Yue Man-lok also star as two young thugs who are hungry for fame among the triads. So far so good, but what makes the film so surprising is that its 30-year-old director, Wong, only has one feature film under his belt. The scriptwriter, Christine To, is even younger, at a precocious 23 years old. 'It's very unusual for a new director to work with such a strong cast, but Andy and Eric are both keen to back the next generation of talent,' says Esther Koo, general manager of Lau's distribution subsidiary, Focus Films. 'They both realise there's a real need for new actors and directors in the Hong Kong film industry - particularly now that the number of films being made is starting to go up.' The project first came about when Tsang made a special appearance in Wong's debut feature, the grisly, low-budget thriller Fu Bo. The film - about a mortuary assistant, a triad assassin and a chef who cooks for death-row convicts - won a fair amount of attention last year and screened at several film festivals including the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea. During filming, Tsang discussed a few story ideas with Wong and suggested he went away to develop them. When Wong came back with To's script - about the chaos that ensues when a gang boss goes into early retirement - Tsang was both surprised at the quality and shocked at the content. He immediately took the project to Lau who he believed was one of the few people in Hong Kong who would be willing to support a new filmmaker. Lau's previous company, Teamwork Motion Pictures, had invested in Fruit Chan Kuo's debut, Made in Hong Kong, and cinematographer Lam Wah-chuen's first film as director, Runaway Pistol. 'There were many reasons they took the project on but one was the strength of the script,' says Koo. 'They were both really surprised by how good it was. And you don't often see a girl writing such a violent story.' Apart from Lau, who takes an executive producer credit, the film is financed by Hong Kong's Media Asia and mainland company Strategic Media International, which recently bought out Hong Kong's Star East Holdings. Tsang is producing the film through his new production outfit Anytime Pictures. Former Star East chairman, Alan Tam Wing-lun, serves as an executive producer and is expected to guest star. One of the film's selling points - in Hong Kong and overseas - is that it reunites many of the cast from Media Asia's hugely successful Infernal Affairs trilogy. It appears that Infernal Affairs has once again raised the profile of Hong Kong gangster movies worldwide. The Hollywood remake of the first film in the trilogy is likely to be directed by Martin Scorsese, who reportedly has Leonardo DiCaprio in mind to star. The first film was also given a mainstream release in Britain last weekend. According to Koo, distributors from Japan, the mainland and Europe are already interested in buying rights to Jiang Hu. The film started shooting last month and is tentatively scheduled for a May release. Any later in the year and it will probably come up against heavy competition. This year's summer release schedules are already looking crowded, with several high-profile films set to open and sporting events such as the Olympics and the Euro 2004 football tournament, which nobody wants to clash with. Also, the number of films going into production has started to increase, which means there could be a stampede for screen space later in the year. However, more films with bigger budgets is a sign of a healthy industry, so Olympics aside, this could be a good year for Hong Kong film. It's also encouraging that new directors are starting to emerge. In addition to Wong and JCE's new team, several young talents have been making their presence felt over the past year, including Edmond Pang Ho-cheung (Men Suddenly in Black) and Barbara Wong Chun-chun (Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat). Sadly, however, the same can't be said for acting talent. While some new faces have emerged in the past year, Hong Kong is still by and large relying on the same tried-and-tested names.