Beast Cops is one of the first Hong Kong movies I fell in love with, not to mention one of the most intense and unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of. That seems like a long time ago now. Since then Lam has struggled to reach the dizzy heights of cinematic excess he enjoyed in ’98 with Anthony Wong in the drivers seat.
To be fair, he did direct The Twins in the stupendously fluffy Twins Effect (we all have our weaknesses). So it gives me great pleasure to announce Dante Lam’s return to hard-hitting crime procedural drama, a highly effective thriller from 2008 with enough spit and polish to keep the most passionate of film fans happy.
Nicholas Tse stars as Sergeant Tong, an officer who inadvertently kills the eldest daughter of public prosecutor Ann Gao (Jingchu Zhang) after an electrifying car chase. Eventually the wanted criminal in question, Cheung, is brought to justice and Ann makes it her sole purpose to convict him.
Things take a drastic turn when Cheung hires a professional killer called Hung to kidnap Ann’s youngest daughter with the intension of returning her when the prosecutor drops all charges against him. Tong has been watching from the sidelines and Ann is forced – albeit reluctantly – to put her trust in the man who’s all ready killed one of her children.
The opening car chase is a real doozy, superbly directed and without a doubt the greatest side-on collision of 2008. There’s also a chance that this event has repercussions later on, but I didn’t tell you that. Beast Stalker – arriving a decade after Beast Cops – is a return to familiar territory for Lam after a string of lukewarm, underwhelming movies. None of the action that follows lives up to the intensity of the opening chase sequence but that’s not really a criticism, the strong performances and expert direction ensure that the ensuing chaos is both gritty and suspenseful.
You will find plenty to enjoy in the cat and mouse finale that brings the film to its exhilarating conclusion. As for the final twist, well, on reflection the denouement seems a little too neat and precise, but I’m not about to criticise a film for tying up its loose ends in such an orderly – not to mention satisfactory – fashion.
Nicholas Tse is his typically reliable self but it’s Nick Cheung who walks away with top honours. For once the villain of the piece is portrayed in living colour; Dante Lam paints Hung in splashes of humanity, which serve the viewer well. The rest of the cast are solid too, with Jingchu Zhang proving particularly convincing as a woman torn apart by the unfolding chaos. Her turn is both subtle and affecting and a joy to experience from start to finish.
At times it feels pedestrian and routine – Beast Cops felt tighter on the whole – but there’s no disputing that Beast Stalker was a return to form for a director who has since become one of the most reliable names in the business. AW