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Original Title:
Sin yan

Hong Kong 2010

Crime, Action, Drama

Dante Lam

Nick Cheung
Nicholas Tse
Guey Lun-Mei
Philip Keung
Liu Kai-Chi
Lu Yi
Pu Miao
Sherman Chung

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The Stool Pigeon

Story: Inspector Don Lee (Nick Cheung) is recruting small time criminals as stool pigeons for the police in order to bust whole gangs. The fate of one of Lee's informants (Liu Kai-Chi) shows how dangerous this job really is when that man's cover is blown by the inspector and he gets beaten up badly by a gangster boss.
One year later Inspector Lee is looking for a new stool pigeon whom he finds in the young driver Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse). Ghost Jr. is just getting out of jail and must work under the gangster Tai Ping (Philip Keung) for Lee. The Inspector heard that Ping is soon going to rob a jewelry store together with Barbarian (Lu Yi), a gangster from Taiwan the Hong Kong police is after for years now. Tai Ping is looking for a driver for this job and Ghost Jr. seems to be just the right person. However, the situation gets even more dangerous than it already is to begin with because of Barbarians girlfriend Dee (Guey Lun-Mei) who plays an unforeseeable role in this deadly cat-and-mouse game.

Review: Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung in an action thriller by Dante Lam. Wait a minute, didn't we just have that? Yes, "The Stool Pigeon" can almost be called an inofficial sequel to "The Beast Stalker" even though there are completely different characters presented here. This time Nick Cheung plays the good and Tse the bad guy. But as it is often the case there is not easily a line to be drawn between black and white. This is also one of the movies biggest advantages. The characters are well written, offer a good amount of drama and the events are always centering around the two main protagonists. It's the complexity of the characters what makes the film so worthwhile, because apart from that we have already seen all of it one or two times before. An informant who has to keep the police in the loop without blowing his cover was also the story of the successful "Infernal Affairs". Director Dante Lam has his very own unique style, though, and therefore he can create a pretty well-done thriller, although it still lacks that special spark in the end that Lam simply doesn't seem to be able to ignite in his movies.

The achievements of the two main leads are among the best work of what the two have delivered up to this date. Especially Nicholas Tse ("The Beast Stalker", "Time and Tide") breaks out of the chains of his usual roles and plays a tough and at the same time vulnerable gangster who is forced to agree to a deal in order to buy free his sister who must prostitute herself because of her father's debt. Nick Cheung ("Exiled", "Breaking News") plays everything but your usual good guy, however. He uses his stool pigeons and this didn't work out so well in the past already. Being plagued by remorse he takes care of a former snitch who has been beaten to a cripple and desperately tries not to make the same mistake twice, although he knows that stoolies are nothing more than tools for the police. He tries to walk a thin line by making use of his informants while at the same time speaking up for them in front of his superiors. This makes Cheung's character quite a complex one.

"The Stool Pigeon" is fully revolving around the characters and their background story gets more layers throughout the film. Ghost Jr. wants to save his sister and in the course gets into a small love relationship with Dee that never really comes to bear, though. But that's fitting as the film actually doesn't hold any room for it. Nick Cheung's character also has some skeletons in his closet that are slowly coming to light, when we more and more have to ask ourselves why this stiff cop of all the places is visiting a dancing school. His romance with the dancing teacher and the drama that unfolds from it just feels a bit too much like a subplot that easily could have been taken out of the movie without making it worse. Actually it could have made the end product more compact and some lengths could have been avoided this way.
The good cast is complemented by a few supporting actors like Liu Kai-Chi as the former informant gone crazy who is leading the rest of his life in fear and Guey Lun-Mei as Barbarian's girlfriend who is everything but the weak woman she seems to be at first.

So there is only little to criticize when it comes to the story and the characters. Problems arise concerning the pacing of the movie and the action sequences. Because of latter ones there are actually only few to be found. Every time the movie starts to get captivating and we believe a good shootout or a car chasing scene might be right around the next corner the director is putting on the brakes. As if Dante Lam didn't want the action to divert from the drama around the characters. However, this wasn't really a wise decision because as it is we are constantly expecting something great that is just staying absent. Thus, a few highlights are the short illegal car racing scene of Ghost Jr. as well as the escape from the police in a car during the course of the film with a subsequent escape at foot over a market. Scenes like that prove that "The Stool Pigeon" could have become really good if there would have been just a few more action scenes.

Anyway, Dante Lam knows how to create the right atmosphere. Everything is pretty gritty, there are a few scenes that are quite thrilling and moreover it gets also rather brutal at times. Especially the showdown, during which everyone is slicing and dicing with machetes, is quite bloody and is working out so well just because of that. Yet, despite that the ending isn't really satisfying as apparently the Chinese co-producers once more were responsible for everyone getting what they deserve in the end. In a Hong Kong movie things should be different and especially when it comes to Dante Lam we should also be expecting the unexpected. But here - far from it. Actually you can even realize how everything is going to be resolved in the beginning. This fact and the somewhat missing action in the movie once again deny this otherwise pretty well done Hong Kong thriller by director Dante Lam a better rating.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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