Director: Dante Lam
Screenplay: Dante Lam, Wai Lung Ng
Producers: Hong Tat Cheung, Dante Lam, Albert Lee, Candy Leung
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Jingchu Zhang, Nick Cheung, Philip Keung
Country: Hong Kong
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 109 min
Beast Stalker is a crime/kidnap thriller from Dante Lam, director of The Twins Effect and Beast Cops. It’s due a DVD release in the UK in early January through Cine-Asia and this week I got my hands on an advanced copy to review.
The film opens with a botched police raid which leads into a car chase as Sergeant Tong (Nicholas Tse) pursues Hong Kong kingpin Cheung Yat-Tung (Philip Keung). The chase is cut short as the cars are involved in a crash. In an attempt to apprehend the criminal at the scene, Tong accidentally shoots and kills the young daughter of Ann Gao (Jingchu Zhang), the public prosecutor in charge of handling the case against Cheung. Tong is obviously devastated and spends his time trying to comfort and protect Ann’s younger daughter, who subsequently gets kidnapped by Hung (Nick Cheung), a contract killer hired by Cheung, who uses the kidnapping to bribe Ann to fix his case. Tong vows to save the girl, whatever it takes.
I found Beast Stalker quite a frustrating film to watch. It’s a film that consistently shows promise, but also consistently veers into cliched and poorly handled territory in most aspects of it’s construction. The opening scenes are a good example of this; the police raid which starts things off is quite bog-standard and visually underwhelming. This is followed by the car crash which is nicely shot in dizzying slow motion and the ensuing realisation that Tong has shot a little girl is quite powerful. After this however we get some ridiculous plot flaws (Ann is still allowed to handle a court case that involved the death of her daughter?!) as well as a cheesy scene with Tong and Ann’s younger daughter. This mix of quality and mediocrity continues throughout and makes for a disappointing experience.
One thing that stood out was the overall look of the film. I tended to find that the daytime scenes just looked a bit too clean and of a TV standard rather than a cinema standard, despite being shot on film (according to IMDB). Some of the techniques used were rather dated and cheap looking too, pulling out some unnecessary slow-mo and freeze frames that feel very 90’s. As the film progresses and gets a bit darker it starts to look a lot better though and some of the scenes in Hung’s apartment looked suitably dingy and shadowy. The same couldn’t be said about the music, which is quite cheesy throughout. It’s a problem I find with a lot of Hong Kong productions. I remember the same style of dated score-by-numbers on the overrated Infernal Affairs (don’t worry I thought The Departed was overrated too).
I don’t want to be too harsh on the film though, as I said it does show a lot of promise at times. The supposed villain, Hung, is gradually developed as a character throughout the film and you begin to realise that he isn’t the monster you think he is at the start. Moments of this feel a little overdone (his seriously ill wife), but generally it’s refreshing to see a film of this type that doesn’t revert to cardboard cut out ‘bad-guys’. All of the characters are pretty flawed in fact which adds layers of realism and depth to proceedings. There are also some quite harsh and shocking moments which are effectively used without feeling unnecessary. One such moment in the film’s finale does cop out, but in afterthought it would have been deeply unsatisfactory had it stuck to it’s guns (I can’t explain any clearer without ruining the end of the film).
Beast Stalker is a film worth seeing for some of it’s stronger elements, but there are too many problems along the way to class it as much more than average. Fans of Hong Kong thrillers will enjoy it, but I don’t think it will be long remembered.
RowThree's UK correspondent.