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Beast Stalker

Nicholas Tse is a cop searching for redemption, Nick Cheung a killer for hire. When a dedicated, crusading attorney (Jingchu Zhang) goes up against a triad killer (Patrick Keung), he authorizes the kidnapping of her daughter, and promises she will be killed unless she destroys the incriminating evidence against him. From there on it's Nic vs. Nick, fighting it out over the fate of one seriously adorable little girl. A well crafted, well acted, high tension thriller, let down only by the complete pointlessness of it central organizing conceit: a car accident in which everyone's lives are "changed forever".

Before the accident, the film establishes Nic Tse and Kai Chi Liu as partners in a police squad, having just finished a bust, while the triad baddy has just busted out of jail. They happen across the jailbird just as he switches cars, and follow in pursuit, causing a car accident. When the accident happens, one of the other cars just happens to be the attorney prosecuting his case! The passengers in the fourth car of the accident are not "revealed" until the end of the film, but you would have to be particularly inattentive not to realize that Nick Cheung's glass-covered, scarred face and near immobilized wife (Miao Pu) were results of that same crash.

Still, implausible coincidence can sometimes serve a good story. Consider Kate Atkinson's recent crime novel ONE GOOD TURN, which opens with what appears to be an incident of road rage, stopped on the spur of the moment by a mystery writer nearby. He then becomes the target of a killer, while many of the onlookers to the event end up woven into the tale neatly and we learn, among other things, that "no good deed goes unpunished". Not so with BEAST STALKER. The accident really changes almost nothing in these characters lives, other than their physical conditions. They are: aggressive cop, dedicated attorney, triad bad guy, and hired killer before the accident, and they are the same afterwards. Sure, our lead cop is having a bit of a mental breakdown because of all the damage he has caused, but it feels more like a leave-of-absence sort of problem rather than something long term. So what was the point? Why build up such an elaborate set piece but leave the audience with nothing other than maybe thinking, boy, that sure was clever? I'm asking, I really have no idea.

So what was the point? Why build up such an elaborate set piece but leave the audience with nothing other than maybe thinking, boy, that sure was clever?

It's frustrating because just little script changes could have made the whole thing work. Make Nick Cheung a reformed ex-con, trying to go straight, who has to then turn back to crime to pay for his medical expenses. Make the accident the cop's fault, to make sure he has someone to resent. Have the attorney pick up the case AFTER being involved in the accident, not before, and her obsession leads to the dissolution of her marriage, etc. (I could be wrong with this last point, she might have been assigned to the case after the accident as it is. The subtitled dialog suggested that she had been on the case, and the opposing council wanted her dismissed because of her involvement with the accident, but she was kept on the case. Perhaps the spoken dialog is clearer). But see! Now the accident really is a pivotal event!

Oh, well. Enough with the back-seat directing. Because of the script failures, this film doesn't have legs quite in the same way that Dante Lam's classic BEAST COPS, which this film clearly connects itself with. But it does have some very good points that make it worth seeing, now, including great action sequences and very strong performances by the whole cast.

Nick Cheung bagged himself a Hong Kong Film Award for his multi-dimensional portrayal of a killer for hire. Seems like every time you turn around he's being celebrated again, but what the hell, he's paid his dues and he is certainly in his prime. Nicholas Tse delivers on his end as well and though he sometimes overplays, he nonetheless shows his strengths and he remains the one I most look forward to see in films among actors of his generation (sorry, Daniel, Edison, Eason, & etc). Kai Chi Liu also took home a HKFA for his supporting role, which is hardly fair as he's pretty much good in everything these days. I found no fault in the performance of Jingchu Zhang, except that she is distractingly beautiful, and in a film in which there is no romantic connection, couldn't they have cast a more normal looking actress for a change?

The action sequences are the real highlight, though. In an age of digital-everything, hyper-everything, action movies are ginned up to such extremes that sometimes I despair of ever seeing what a real person running down a real street might look like. thankfully, Dante Lam and action director Bruce Law has come to our rescue and has delivered a few painstakingly, carefully choreographed, realistic action sequences that are absolutely thrilling. The central car accident is just about perfect, but a couple foot chases between Tse and Cheung are where the film really delivers.