by Mel Valentin
SCREENED AT THE 52ND SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: An intense, action-oriented cop thriller, "The Beast Stalker" ("Ching yan") marks a return to form for writer-director Dante Lam, the Hong Kong-based filmmaker best known stateside for 1998ís "Beast Cop" and 2003ís "The Twins Effect" (a.k.a. "The Vampire Effect"). Lam co-wrote "The Beast Stalker" with Wai Lun Ng. While most of Lamís films havenít received a wide release stateside, heís made more than a dozen films in a twelve year period. Nominated for five awards at the Hong Kong equivalent of the Academy Awards, "The Beast Stalker" won two awards, for Best Actor, Nick Cheung and Best Supporting Actor, Liu Kai-Chi (it was also nominated for Best Screenplay, Best Sound Design, and Best Editing).In the prologue, the audience meets Tang Fei (Nicholas Tse), a police detective who runs a plainclothes unit. The temperamental Tang isnít particularly loved by his unit, but for Tang, their respect is enough. When a drug and weapons bust ends with the shooting of one of his officers, Master Sun (Liu Kai-Chi), Tang goes off on another officer who hesitated. Luckily for Sun, he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. When, however, Tang gets a call that a druglord, Cheung Yat-Tung (Philip Keung), has escaped police custody, he springs back into action, with Sun as his driver. After a lengthy car chase, Tang gets his man, but not before Sun is seriously, permanently injured and Tang accidentally shoots and girl a young hostage. Tang goes on administrative leave.
"Less than the sum of its action-thriller cliches."
Three months later, Cheung awakens from a coma. The prosecutorís office puts Ann Ko (Zhang Jingchu), the mother of the young girl Tang accidentally killed during the car chase, in charge of the case. Cheung hires Hong Jing (Nick Cheung), a ruthless professional killer, to kidnap Annís other daughter, Ling (Suet-yin Wong). Cheungís associates warn Ann not to contact the police or Hong will kill her daughter. In exchange, they expect Ann to fix the case and free Cheung. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), Tang happens to be present at Lingís kidnapping. Seeing a chance to redeem himself, Tang, along with the still loyal Sun, now relegated to desk duty, begins an unofficial investigation. With the trial approaching, Ann sees little choice but to comply with the kidnapperís demands.
Part police procedural, part (superficial) character study, and part (manipulative) melodrama (just wait for the syrupy piano whenever Ling or Annís other daughter comes up in conversation), The Beast Stalker is typical for Hong film. Character motivations are superficial (at best), character interactions are clichťd, the plot points predictable, and the acting uneven (especially in the early scenes, where histrionics are the norm). Lam humanizes the seemingly ruthless Hung, first by giving him a bedridden wife, throwing some audience sympathy his way and later, in an extended flashback that closes out The Beast Stalker. Itís just one more example of Lamís inability to decide who he wants moviegoers to care for, the humbled, beaten-down cop.To Lamís credit, "The Beast Stalker" doesnít waste time in developing a romantic subplot. Ann has little interest in Tong or his desire to redeem himself by saving Ling. In fact, she sees Tong as an impediment and a danger to seeing Ling alive again. Where, however, "The Beast Stalker" really excels is in the efficient direction, expert pacing, and action choreography. Credit for the direction and pacing, of course, belongs to Dante Lam. Credit for the action choreography is divided, however, between Lam and Bruce Law, a stunt supervisor widely respected for his hyper-kinetic stunt scenes. If there was an award for Best Car Chase/Car Crash, Law would take it (or at least received a nomination). Unfortunately, there isnít one.
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originally posted: 05/11/09 11:00:00