The Beast Stalker (2008)

aka Ching yan

2012 #48
Dante Lam | 110 mins | TV* | 1.85:1 | Hong Kong / Cantonese | 15

The Beast StalkerWhile in pursuit of an accused murderer, a cop (Nicholas Tse) accidentally kills the daughter of said murderer’s prosecutor (Jingchu Zhang). Three months later, just days before his trial, the accused has the prosecutor’s other daughter kidnapped, to persuade her to destroy the evidence proving his guilt. Despite having spent the intervening time in reclusive self doubt, the cop sets out to rescue the kidnapped little girl.

The Beast Stalker is the kind of thriller that’s far less convoluted when you actually sit down to watch it, even if it does contain flashbacks that some other reviewers found confusing. Personally I had no trouble spotting them, but then thanks to those other reviews I was looking out for them, so who knows? Do note that the title is absolutely meaningless. Even if you read it as the “beast” being some kind of human, none of the characters are specifically a “beast stalker”. Maybe its meaning got lost in translation.

As a Hong Kong-produced thriller, you’d expect the focus here to actually be on the action sequences, but that’s not the case — there’s a real effort to look at the characters and the investigative side of the story. It’s by no means a procedural, and the character drama isn’t as deep as it might like to be, but the intentions are good. When HK’s famed action does turn up, it’s quite fleetingly and entirely plot-driven. The pivotal opening car chase is a nice one, topped by a crash realised (I presume) through seamless CGI. It reoccurs in flashbacks, each time with equal visual awe. Other punch-ups arise from the story rather than action-movie-necessity, Gun in a fist fightmaking them a little perfunctory — the real meat actually lies in the plot’s twists and turns. This is more one for fans of thrillers than beat-’em-ups.

That said, it’s not an overly surprise-laden plot — following the heroes and villains throughout sees to that — but that doesn’t leave it without tension or surprise. In the final reel, however, it tries to have its cake and eat it, first with a Shocking Moment it retreats back from, then with a final twist that ties everything up in a neat little bow; the kind of narrative trick which feels satisfying when you write it but comes over as too pat to an audience. It doesn’t ruin the film, it’s just a bit of a cheap “ta-dah!”, and perhaps with some more groundwork it could’ve been made to make sense.

In the lead role, Nicholas Tse fails to bring much more than standard action movie heroism to his character. There’s the occasional scene where he’s clearly been instructed to convey self doubt, but it isn’t pervasive. His best emoting comes courtesy of a nosebleed. Left to his own devices, his performance consists of business-like heroism, massively OTT shouting, or wails of crying sorrow. But that nosebleed… that works.

LeoneThe top performance comes from Nick Cheung as a for-hire kidnapper with the Bondian trait of being blinded in one eye while the other only has black-and-white vision. He gets added complexity thanks to an invalided wife he tenderly cares for — he’s only in this life of crime to pay off his debts and medical bills, y’know. Cheung’s largely silent turn manages a fine balance of menace and sympathy. He won a couple of HK awards for it, according to Wikipedia, which seems deserved to me.

No other roles offer quite so much, scuppered by subplots that either go nowhere or are too familiar to care about. There’s the prosecutor’s failed marriage which may have led to the death of her child, or the cocky bossy cop who has a crisis of ability after an accidental killing, and so on. The theoretical main villain barely even features, which is refreshing in a way — it’s not that he’s underplayed, just that he’s not that relevant. Plus there’s the odd completely misjudged bit, like Tse’s cop stalking the sister of the little girl he accidentally killed, sketching her and offering her sweets. Creepy.

The name's Bond...A brief couple of scenes with a bullied colleague play out nicely, though unfortunately they contrast with a painfully written bit in which another colleague tells Tse’s character what people think of him. “They said you were horrible, but I like working for you,” she tells him (I paraphrase), for no discernible reason. It doesn’t even matter that we’re told that, because we’ve already seen it. I just don’t get it.

As a straightforward thriller, The Beast Stalker ticks boxes admirably. As something with more meaningful depth, it manages to pull off a couple of threads, but is left wanting in other areas. The foundations are there, but the script needs a re-write to build on it.

4 out of 5

* I watched it on Film4 HD, though it wasn’t listed as being in HD. Still looks a helluva lot better than regular-quality digital TV though. ^

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