I rather thought that 2008 didn’t bring anything special to the world of Hong Kong crime dramas. So, it is quite refreshing to see director Dante Lam with co-writer Jack Ng come up with an effective kidnap-crime-thriller such as “BEAST STALKER”. The plot in “Beast Stalker” doesn’t really offer anything groundbreaking, but it does succeed in playing on all its aces as a crime thriller. The film contains a good dose of action, suspense, grittiness, emotions with characters that are fleshed out.
After a bust, Sgt. Tong (Nicholas Tse) is a cop who takes his job very seriously. He overreacts when things don’t exactly go as planned. Tong and his partner Sun, stumble upon a escaped felon, an evil doer named Cheung (Keung Ho-Man) and engages in a car chase, which ends with a real bad accident. During the attempted escape, Tong accidentally kills the child of Ann Gao (Zhang Jingchu), a divorced mom of twins and the appointed prosecutor who had been assigned Cheung’s murder case. Fast forward to three months after, and Cheung awakens from a coma. Ann Gao is still assigned Cheung’s case, and Tong, wracked with guilt had formed a friendship with Ann’s other daughter, Ling (Wong Suet Yin). However, Ling is dragged into trouble as a mysterious man named Hung (Nick Cheung) is hired to kidnap her. The demands are simple, Ann must lose valuable evidence for her daughter to live. Now, in a race against time, Tong, aided by his friend Sun must find Ling--as an act of redemption.
“Beast Stalker” is pretty much a conventional crime thriller, and is essentially a simple cat-and-mouse thrill ride. The characters are pretty much average and may be seen as mere extensions of essential ones that have plagued this genre for many years. However, writers Dante Lam and Jack Ng does manage to give them ’depth’ and they feel very human. The investigations shown in the kidnapping aren’t really that inventive, with clues that pretty much follow the basics of your usual crime thriller. Thankfully, the direction sidesteps some of its weaknesses and manages to carefully flesh out its melodramatic elements. The film may be billed as an action thriller, but it strengths lie in its characters, you learn to care about them and maybe even sympathize with their situation.
Tong is your usual dedicated cop, with guilt riding heavily on his shoulders. Nick Tse does manage to portray his character effectively, although his skills as an actor may be somewhat lacking. There are times that Tse played his character with such unnecessary sentimentality that he felt a little sappy. Nick Cheung may have stolen the show as Hung, the kidnapper who has a softer kinder side to him, as he cares for his sick wife (Miao Pu, her Cantonese lines dubbed by Esther Kwan) with such loving commitment. Hung also develops a small fondness for Ling, and I thought it was nicely played. Zhang Jingchu’s Ann Gao may be the most underdeveloped of the three leads, but she does manage to shine in her role. I rather thought that the supporting characters, such as Sun and Hung’s ailing wife even had their moments to truly grow into the audiences. I felt nothing but sympathy for Miao Pu’s supporting character. Of course, Ling is one cute kid, and it is so easy to develop an attachment to her. (thankfully, she doesn’t become annoying and remained an integral part of the film’s plot up to its climax) I liked the way director Lam represented his characters, they feel very human, with something at stake and a lot to lose.
The direction is well-paced, and manages to keep up the film’s intensity with its servings of suspense, action and drama. It may not match his work in “Beast Cops” (1998) but hey, I have to admit the direction was pretty solid and strong. The camera work has the gritty realistic feel, with some occasional use of shaky camera work in the action scenes. The action may carry a bit of bombastic style at times but I thought it maintained their intensity throughout. The action is pretty realistic and is nothing flashy, I commend Tung Wai’s sense of restraint in its choreography. The film does also have a cool car chase scene but it is also nothing too elaborate. There is some mild use of slow-motion in the crashes and I thought Bruce Law’s execution was nicely done. The film is able to play on the audience’s senses, while experienced movie watchers knows exactly what to expect, it does manage to convince the viewer to withhold those expectations--there are some factors that feel stereotypical but Dante Lam is able to engage the viewer in the way he assembles those elements. Director Lam is able to create the needed tension, to give the impression that those expectations may go another way.
“Beast Stalker” does manage to tie its characters together in the form of flashbacks, and while I thought it was an asset, it can be argued that if it was a strength or a weakness. To its credit, the film doesn’t feel ostentatious, and the solid direction does manage to hide some of its weaknesses. The film is an emotional ride with some dips in action to keep things interesting. While not exactly an excellent flick, it is a satisfying diversion with its great production values, decent performances and emotions that serve up an intense experience.
Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Video/audio: 1.77 ratio anamorphic widescreen. The transfer from the Tai Seng release is pretty and looks good up-converted to 1080p. The DTS-ES Cantonese language track will give your home theater a work out. There is also an available 5.1 Dolby track for those w/out a DTS decoder. The English Subs are pretty good.
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