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Original Title:
Ching yan

Hong Kong 2008

Crime, Action, Drama

Dante Lam

Nicholas Tse
Nick Cheung
Zhang Jingchu
Liu Kai Chi
Wong Suet-yin
Philip Keung
Cheung Kwok-Wai
Sherman Chung
Kwok Jing-hung

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The Beast Stalker

Story: Tong Fei (Nicholas Tse) is after the wanted criminal Cheung for quite a while already. During a car chasing scene he is involved in an accident, though, which cripples his friend Sun (Liu Kai-Chi). In the midst of the following shoot-out he accidentally fatally injures a little girl. After that gunfire Cheung lies in a coma and wakes up from it three weeks later, whereupon prosecutor (Zhang Jingchu) wants to take him to court as soon as possible. The little girl killed in the gunfire was her oldest daughter.
Tong Fei is tormented by his guilty conscience day by day and because of it he keeps in touch with the little girl Ling (Wong Suet-yin), Ann's second daughter. He hopes to get some kind of redemption this way. But then one day he is witness of Ling being kidnapped by the killer Hung (Nick Cheung). Hung is kidnapping her by order of Cheung who informs Ann that she must make a certain piece of evidence disappear if she wants to see her daughter again. Ann also mustn't call the police, but Tong now sees his chance to make some sort of amends and is working on his own initiative to save Ling.

Review: "The Beast Stalker" is an entertaining Hong Kong cop-thriller and furthermore one of the best of the past years. Sadly, that doesn't mean that much as Hong Kong can't really boast having brought out true genre gems during that last few years. Therefore, expectations were quite low and so the successful B-movie director Dante Lam could prove once again that he is actually on the verge of being an A-movie director. He simply doesn't seem to be capable of making the final leap. At least not completely. It's the same with "The Beast Stalker" as he proves to have an impressive sense for the right atmosphere and tension at some points and also scores with surprisingly innovative scenes. Sadly, he can't fully keep up that level of expertise throughout the whole movie. His thriller is simply too long, the story too characteristical for the genre, the characters are at best clichés of typical protagonists of such movies that have a bit more color than usual and as a action flick Dante Lam's film simply doesn't provide enough adrenaline-loaden moments.

Nicholas Tse ("Invisible Target", "New Police Story", "Time and Tide") has constantly been cast into a certain kind of role because of his juvenile looks, but this is now supposed to slowly change, e.g. with roles like that of the broken policeman Tong Fei. The only problem is that Tong is still looking way too young for an officer-in-charge of a police unit. Sometimes he doesn't seem to fit into the role because of his exterior but he is giving his best to make the audience overlook that fact. He is accentuating his inner pain in a pretty believeable way and this even though he is clearly overdoing it at some points leading to overacting during certain emotional outbursts. However, surprisingly, as already stated, that isn't really that annoying as it might sound.
Nick Cheung ("Breaking News", "Exiled") is playing a part that just seems to be tailor made for him because of his exterior. Behind his terrifyingly ruthless nature there is hiding a caring husband who is looking after his bedridden wife and at several points we get to fathom that he actually wasn't a bad guy from the start. Cheung can bestow several layers upon his character through subtle acting which makes him the most interesting individual in the film.

Good and Evil, black and white, those are things in Hong Kong cinema that are never really seperated in such a contrasting way as in Hollywood flicks, that much we already know. "The Beast Stalker" is no exception to that, the way of drawing different shades of gray is nonetheless put even more to the foreground than in other movies of the genre. This goes even that far that we are sitting at the edge of our seat and hope that the police who turns up at Hung's door because of a trifle doesn't discover little Ling at his home. Moreover, there are several flashbacks scattered throughout the film that shed some light on the exact background of the characters. There are one or two surprises to be found, too, but on the other hand this also leads to, and that much can be said without spoiling, the viewer not really being able to grasp the reason why Hung became the man he now is.
The two main leads are supported by Zhang Jingchu ("Jade Story") who is just allowed to play a clichéloaden mother with understandable hatred towards Tong Fei. In contrast to her veteran actor Liu Kai-Chi is adding a lot to the acting expertise in the movie.

Dante Lam surprises with a few fascinating and impressive shots. For example, there is the car crash that is captured in slow-motion and is also shown from an in-car perspective only for the picture to freeze and let the camera move through a three-dimensional picture, but there is also the scene in which Tong is slowly approaching Cheung's car while we only get to see his gun like in a first-person shooter that is engaging. Besides that the atmosphere is gritty as it should be in a thriller and a few little chasing scenes are upping the pacing in a well-done fashion. Nevertheless, that's also where some flaws can be found, because either director Lam should have implemented a few more action scenes or he should have made his film a bit shorter. As it is "The Beast Stalker" has some unnecessary lengths. Furthermore, the finale is somewhat disappointing and unspectacular. However, Dante Lam deserves some credit for managing to keep the viewer guessing how the film might end. Everything seems possible. Why shouldn't Ling be dying as well in the end? This fact alone creates a whole lot of thrill, of course.

Unfortunately, "The Beast Stalker" is sometimes apparently going nowhere with its story. There are a few plot holes as well, but on the other hand you shouldn't be annoyed that all characters seemingly are in some way connected by certain events. Because this kind of fate, which almost seems to have a evil way of life in its own, is typical for Hong Kong thrillers. Since this is in no way bothering me, I especially liked the epilogue which answered all remaining questions about Hung's past.
Actually, "The Beast Stalker" is a good thriller, if nothing else an entertaining one, but there are still too many flaws that prevent me from granting a better rating. It's really strange, actually I generally like Dante Lam's movies, but I have the feeling that I need to be especially strict with him. Maybe that's because his movies show that he has potential to do so much better.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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