Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Beast Stalker


Directed by: Dante Lam
Screenplay: Dante Lam & Wai Lun Ng
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Jingchu Zhang, Nick Cheung, Kai Chi Liu

The Beast Stalker
has had some buzz around it since being released in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and while it doesn’t quite fully live up to that buzz, it is still a taut thriller with more than few surprises up its sleeve. Directed with verve by Dante Lam (The Sniper, Beast Cops) The Beast Stalker sees hot headed cop Tong (Tse) causing the death of a young child while trying to apprehend a known criminal on the run. The child’s death is an accident but shows Tong’s gung ho attitude is causing more problems than solving them. Likewise one of his team is badly injured in the pursuit and shunted to a desk job and another fired from his team, leaving Tong’s policing methods in question. Several months’ later the criminal he was pursuing is up on trail and organizes the kidnap of the young sister of the girl Tong accidentally killed. It just so happens that her mother is the prosecuting lawyer in his trial and he wants to make sure she doesn’t send him down. Tong learns of this and sees his chance at redemption by attempting to rescue the young girl. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem with a master kidnapper who proves to be slippery foe.

A somewhat overgeneralization of what The Beast Stalker is about as it actually has a lot more going. Lam’s film twists and turns with surprises and while the flick certainly exists within a heightened reality (what thriller doesn’t?) the film works on its own hard boiled terms, quite rightly focusing on tension. Coincidence plays a big part in the film, so a modicum of disbelief is required as characters often handily cross paths and finds clues. This is not such a bad thing, especially as the film is spun around all those involved in the opening car crash (now becoming an overused plot device!) and death of the young girl. However, if coincidence isn’t your thing, then no doubt you will pick apart The Beast Stalker. But it all works well within its thriller framework and the film has much more going for it. Tse (Time & Tide, New Police Story) is fast becoming one of Hong Kong’s best young actors and embraces a character who is often hard to have sympathy for. Somewhat selfish and lacking focus when it comes to police procedural his character Tong is nevertheless a man trying to do the right thing despite very rarely getting things right. This is a refreshing spin on the pretty boy hero and it is often in doubt on whether he will actually rescue the girl. His adversary is just as fresh and engaging, Nick Cheung (Connected) certainly inhabits a nasty man (who will do whatever asked as along as he gets paid) but is given a little more humanity when we learn he is also caring for his sick wife and he may just be getting tired of his chosen lifestyle.

But that is giving too much away as The Beast Stalker is best viewed with little knowledge of the story and characters as possible as it's rewarding to see where it goes without too much prior knowledge. What The Beast Stalker does do so well is build the tension, not least during its set-pieces. Reigning in on the extravagance Hong Kong action embraces at times, Lam keep’s the chase sequences tight and thrilling never making anything too over the top. Subtle use of music contributes to the overall effect as well, the film peppered with chases, a high light being Tse chasing Cheung through the streets of Hong Kong.

Flawed it may be with a little too much coincidence and melodrama dampening the overall effect (and Lam’s insistence on herky-jerky handheld camerawork doesn't always help either: sorry, but this doesn’t automatically make your film more gritty and authentic!), The Beast Stalker is still a great thriller that entertains and shocks and doesn’t wimp out at showing how evil people can really be. Bolstered by some solid Hong Kong action and fine leading performances, The Beast Stalker is a refreshing take on an old formula

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