PiFan 09 Review: THE BEAST STALKER

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PiFan 09 Review: THE BEAST STALKER

A memo to Hong Kong director Dante Lam: Write more scripts. Through the bulk of his career Lam has been a designated second stringer - a reliable but unspectacular director who can be counted on by studios to bring projects in on time and on budget with a minimum of fuss and bother, to generally positive but unspectacular reviews. This is no longer the case. With The Beast Stalker - a film Lam co-wrote himself for just the second writing credit of his career, according to the IMDB - Lam is now officially a member of the Hong Kong elite.

A lean and taut police thriller in the classic Hong Kong style, titular beast stalker is played by Nicolas Tse as a rigidly perfectionist cop (Fei) devastated when a stray bullet from his gun slays a young girl. He gets his man - a dangerous crime lord - in the shoot out, yes, but is haunted by grief and shame at the tragedy and is never the same, his cold efficiency replaced by mourning and the deep-seated urge to help the mother of the dead girl - a divorced, high profile public prosecutor - take care of her surviving daughter. His help, of course, is not at all wanted.

The beast to be stalked? That would be Nick Cheung as Hung, a professional hitman and kidnap artist hired by the previously captured crime lord to ensure that his case never goes to trial by kidnapping the prosecutor's young daughter and using the child for leverage. The prosecutor, of course - in an only-in-Hong Kong twist - is the mother of the girl killed by Fei at the outset and whether she wants his help or not, her only hope of getting her lone surviving child back alive is to allow Fei to put his own life on the line and go outside the boundaries of the law to track and capture her captor.

Thick with tension and melodrama, The Beast Stalker embodies all of the elements of classic Hong Kong cinema. You've got your hard boiled rogue cop, your vicious but strangely empathetic villain, your layers upon layers of intrigue and coincidences contrived to ramp the melodrama up to extreme heights. In the wrong hands these elements come off as tired and cliche but in the right hands it shows why classic Hong Kong became classic in the first place and the Lam / Tse / Cheung combination is note perfect.

Lam deserves enormous praise at the outset for his efficient script, the immediately engaging story and firm grasp on both action and mood. The Beast Stalker is a clinical example of how to build and release tension to keep your audience on edge, a film that gives you deeply believable characters despite the on-the-edge premise and manages to shock without ever stretching credibility. The technical end of the film is superb and that is all, one hundred percent down to Lam and his skilled crew.

And all of that technical skills exists here purely to highlight the ongoing cat-and-mouse game played out by Tse and Cheung, Hong Kong's current go-to leading man and one of its most consistent character players proving to be perfectly matched throughout. Tse captures the nuances of his character remarkably well, proving once again that his pretty-boy days are well and truly behind him, while Cheung delivers a powerhouse, charismatic performance in the villain role - a role that should have Hong Kong's leading directors and casting agents lining up for his services for years to come.

The Beast Stalker was a film that was easy to miss as it went through production. A new film from Dante Lam does not exactly draw huge notice, particularly not one built on story elements as familiar as these are. But the finished product here is truly remarkable, a film that fully deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the leading Hong Kong thrillers of the past ten years.

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More about Beast Stalker, The

TimoJuly 19, 2009 2:45 PM

Yeah, agreed with Eight Rooks. Solid film, but only because there wasn't a whole lot of other films to compete with it last year.

Beast Cops remains Dante Lam's true career highlight. We'll see what he does next.

curious_gregJuly 19, 2009 2:49 PM

Nice, enthusiastic review. You should add a link to Yesasia's region-free (and less than $20) blu-ray of the film...and maybe one for the considerably more expensive 'The Shonen Merikensack' as well.

Itto Ogami loses DaigoroJuly 20, 2009 1:17 AM

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, it had the suspense factor ratcheting up throughout the movie. And Nick Cheung is under rated.

pochiWJuly 20, 2009 3:49 AM

I thought on Beast Cops, Dante Lam handled more of the action or second unit stuff, but enough major scenes to claim co-directorship with Gordon Chan. Do agree with Rhythm-X on Lam's best work so far: Jaing Hu: Triad Zone. It has a similar take-no-prisoners spirit of ambition and breaking conventions, as Naked Ambition (satire on porn industry) - and both are notable for the synergy of the major players' ambition to do something truly off the beaten path. Too bad both veered so much away from the mainstream they never gained momentum for future work of the same.

Todd BrownJuly 20, 2009 5:24 AM

I have seen Beast Cops but it's been a long time ... I'll need to dig it up again ...

CuttermaranJuly 20, 2009 2:10 PM

Beast Stalker is a nicely made flick, but nothing special. Nick Cheung is memorable, the rest isn't. Not worth the hype. It's just sad, a little so-so movie should be "the best in years" from Hongkong. That's definitly a bad sign for HK cinema.

sitenoiseJuly 20, 2009 4:56 PM

Watched [b]The Beast Stalker[/b] last night and there wasn't one single monster in it (what's up with that?), although Nick Cheung possessed some über-human qualities like always being out of the blue and into the right place always at the right time, moving at speeds faster than light, and getting bashed in the face with a rock and not bleeding at all. I loved the (contrived) story construction and Nicholas Tse's performance, as well as the little girls' and Cheung's. All the acting was pretty good when you could actually see what was going on. I had to stop frame and inch through the scene on the bridge/overpass where they hung that little girl over the edge. I wonder what the film could have been without being a stylized action pic.

Matthew LeeJuly 20, 2009 6:02 PM

Heh, if anyone doesn't call Nicky T's yelling after the opening raid overacting, I dread to think what they do. :P I like him as an actor, but he does have a tendency to push things just a little too far if he thinks his part's Serious Business.

J HurtadoJuly 20, 2009 6:04 PM

That tantrum he throws is part of the character and its comes into play later. I think it was appropriate

Rhythm-XJuly 20, 2009 6:19 PM

Dante Lam's is the earlier of the two, and is helpfully titled JIANG HU ~ THE TRIAD ZONE, as opposed to the other one, which is just JIANG HU. Unquestionably one of the most underrated Hong Kong films of the decade; best to scoop it up while you can as the Hong Kong DVD and VCD are both out of print.

CfensiJuly 20, 2009 10:53 PM

Dante Lam will always be the director of Love on the Rocks as far as I'm concerned. That's not a criticism.