Beast Stalker Review

The Film

In recent years, Hong Kong crime movies have moved away from action into the realms of humanist drama. The work of Johnnie To has shown less and less interest in the mechanics of genre and started to concentrate on the business of what makes people what they are, and directors like Cheang Pou-Soi have been more concerned with philosophical introspection than cool action. In a very post-modern way, Hong Kong crime movies seem to have become less about simple transactions of good and evil and much more about understanding the whys and wherefores of their protagonist's actions.
Dante Lam's Beast Stalker deals with the unforeseen consequences on the lives of three sets of people caught in a police chase at the film's opening. From an initial incident, a set of circumstances propel the characters into the dark events of murder, corruption and kidnapping that follow. These characters include an officious detective, a principled prosecutor and a loving couple, and their individual drives to protect and survive bring them into outright conflict. This conflict is revealed as being a result of their individual strategies to cope with the aftermath of the original incident, rather than a case of simple cops and robbers.

Pouting lovely Nicolas Tse plays the guilty detective in a way that is so vain that it is hard to claim much for the depth of his character's development, although he is written to not be as heroic as Tse tries to project. His tantrums, his obsessiveness and his creepy stalking of the child of the prosecutor suggest more darkness than Tse has to offer as a rather limited actor, and I must say that Lam's film suffers from this heroic perspective on a quite damaged character.
Luckily those around Tse have more range and are more comfortable with coming off wrong, weak or just plain fucked up. Nick Cheung is quite wonderful as the kidnapper whose actions are driven out of love for his paralysed wife, and a healthy dose of guilt for his responsibility for her current state. He suggests methodical attempts to climb out of personal crisis and makes some preposterous writing seem nearly believable. Cheung's gradual development from cold villain to desperate carer is testament to his control when it would be easier to go for extreme and it represents some beautifully pitched acting.

The rest of the supporting cast are similarly committed and they give depth to roles which are a little underwritten in a film that is full of cinematic shortcuts and assumption of movie conventions rather than careful exposition. That dramatic commitment of the cast is the chief draw of the film and the real success in creating tension comes from their plausibility and not the elegance of the script. As a director, Lam proves ruthlessly efficient in ringing out the humanist sympathy angle and very proficient in managing the small bursts of action, if only he was a little better at keeping the script grounded and avoiding cheap manipulation.
The danger of playing this kind of kidnap thriller for pathos and as a greater social tragedy is that it can all get a bit overwrought and preachy and for the most part Lam's nose for entertainment stops this from happening. He doesn't always succeed though - some of the child actress' dialogue is sickly sweet and the scene with guilt ridden Tse sketching her in the park is rather unintentionally funny, especially when he offers her some sweets (nothing creepy about that, no sirree). In the end, the need to make a mass market movie keeps the film from becoming too arty or from exploring humanity a little bit more convincingly, and perhaps that is for the best as I am not sure that Dante Lam is the man for either of those directions.

What you get with Beast Stalker is an interesting take on a procedural thriller and a terrific turn by Nick Cheung and that's well worth the occasional cringe and some preposterousness.

Technical Specs

This is a two disc set with cheapish looking menus and probably an incorrect standards conversion of the main feature. The transfer is framed at 1.78:1 and interlaced with some motion shake, blurriness and general murk. Colours lack brightness and saturation, and the contrast is far from great as well. This is pretty weak stuff and you may get round it by some sturdy de-interlacing if you have that ability and messing with the contrast, but to be honest you don't have to as there are lots of decent Asian releases of this film already.
The Cantonese audio tracks are much better with decent bit-rates, and in the case of the 5.1 mix a powerfully enveloping and atmospheric mix with plenty of coverage and powerful bass. The English track has some dire Americanised dubbing, and the annoying child's voice is beyond my powers to describe it in terms of fingers down the blackboard awfulness. The English subtitles are pretty good though, grammatical and sensible throughout.

Special features

Disc one contains a short trailer for the film, along with eight deleted and alternate scenes which must be watched individually. There are also 12 trailers for other Cine-Asia releases. The second disc comes with four featurettes with burnt in subs which deal with the arrangement of the car chases, one of Tse's stunts climbing the exterior of a building, the Chung-Tse street chase and finally footage of the child actors on set. These pieces are not narrated and do not include interviews.

The making of featurette knits together contributions from Lam and his cast along with onset footage and clips from the film. It's a promotional piece where everything is said to plug the film and it's very superficial as it skims through the message of the film, the actors and the stunts. There are interviews with Tse, Zhang, Chung and Lam. Tse talks about the depth of his performance and describes Lam as becoming less dogmatic than previously. Zhang tells the world what a delight and an artist Tse is, Chung praises Lam and the child actors, and Lam talks about wanting to explore the emotional side of Tse's persona (that sounds a thankless task).


A far from perfect film but it has some good ideas and a fine performance from Chung and the supporting cast. You might like to give this edition a rental but I'd advise shopping overseas for a better transfer.

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