Having completed the arduous task of sorting all of my pills according to colour, I’m ready to share some thoughts on THE BEAST STALKER.
THE BEAST STALKER
Official Site: http://thebeaststalker.emp.hk/en_main.html
Director: Dante Lam Chiu-Yin
Cast: Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung (Sergeant Tong Fei), Nick Cheung Ka-Fai (Hung Kin), Zhang Jingchu (Ann Gao), Liu Kai-Chi (Sun), Miao Pu (Hung’s wife), Derek Kwok Jing-Hung (Michael)
Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies): A traffic accident brings together the lives of a wanted criminal, a police sergeant, a public prosecutor and her daughter.
PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Kozo gave this movie a positive review and YTSL from Webs of Significance recommended it to me so I’m expecting to see a good film. I’m also watching it as part of my quest to see all of the Hong Kong Film Awards nominees (Nick Cheung is nominated for Best Actor, Liu Kai-Chi for Best Supporting Actor plus the film nabbed a Best Screenplay nomination). In addition, I’m curious to see the continuing evolution of the Crown Prince of the HK entertainment circle Nic Tse.
AFTER THE MOVIE: An enthralling film that held my attention from the moment the Emperor Motion Pictures logo dissolved to the moment the credits began to roll. It reminded me a lot of PROTEGE in that a handful of off key moments tainted what was otherwise a fine film. That said, it’s a better, more compelling film than PROTEGE and an eminently satisfying Hong Kong movie experience.
MORE THOUGHTS: Two aspects of THE BEAST STALKER keep it just a shade under the “great movie” category. The first is the flashback ending that detracts rather than enhances what happened in the rest of the movie. The second is a couple of instances of overacting by Nic Tse.
When I rated the HKFA nominated best films last year, I put Johnnie To’s EYE IN THE SKY at the top. Other HK movie buffs derided the movie and rated it lower because they felt it was too contrived and relied too much on coincidence to move its plot forward. Well, the contrivances in EYE IN THE SKY pale in comparison to the contrivance at the end of THE BEAST STALKER. The “needle in a haystack” contrivance at the end of EYE IN THE SKY is easier to swallow than the “one stone, many ripples” contrivance at the end of THE BEAST STALKER. Sure, the flashback in the closing minutes of THE BEAST STALKER ties a bow on the package. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly-looking bow that distracts from an otherwise neatly-wrapped package. In fact, the film probably would not have been hurt one bit if the characters weren’t bound together by a strange twist of fate.
Maybe my perspective has been skewed by watching 16 out of the 19 seasons of LAW & ORDER (I didn’t start watching until the third season and I missed one season because of cancer treatments) but there’s no way in real life that the Secretary of Justice would let Ann Gao continue with the prosecution of chief bad guy Cheung Yat-Tung. Having conducted all of my criminal enterprises here in the West, I’m not intimately familiar with the Hong Kong legal system but letting Ann Gao prosecute a man who was involved in the death of her daughter screams “conflict of interest”. Also, one of the reasons the Secretary of Justice lets Ann Gao continue is because it’s a cut-and-dried “slam dunk” case. Well, wouldn’t that be a good reason to let another prosecutor handle the case? If it’s such an “open and shut” case, couldn’t any semi-competent prosecutor take over? Just another contrivance that bugs about the film.
Before I begin slamming Nic Tse’s performance, I want to make it clear that I think he’s come a long, long way from the first time I saw him in a major production: the 1998 TVB series AIMING HIGH (撻出愛火花). He’s matured quite a bit and has added an air of gravitas to his screen charisma. Back when I ran my old site — especially during the weeks I did daily translations of the coverage from his perversion of justice case — I pegged him to be just another pretty-boy idol who’d get a longer run than he deserved because of his pedigree. After watching his work in THE BEAST STALKER, I’m convinced that he can, if he wants, have a long career as a respected actor. However …
… there are moments in THE BEAST STALKER where his acting is so over-the-top, it’s unintentionally funny. The first instance happens early in the film when he chews out a subordinate for screwing up during a raid. Tse’s sergeant-in-charge-of-a-squad is supposed to command respect because he’s a good cop but the way Tse does the screaming scene makes him seem like the type of boss that underlings roll their eyes at instead of one they respect. I actually started laughing during that scene because it reminded me of the comic-relief angry superiors that were staples in ’80s era cop movies like BEVERLY HILLS COP and LETHAL WEAPON.
The second instance happens near the end of the film when Tse’s character is weeping and we learn that he’s suicidal. Tse gets the physical mechanics of crying right but it feels empty — there isn’t, as Bruce Lee would say, “emotional content” in the weeping. I watched the movie with my friend Steve (I supplied the DVD, he supplied a bacon, cheese and mushroom pizza and a vegetarian pizza). Halfway through Tse’s weeping scene, Steve starts laughing and doing the Nancy Kerrigan “Why? Why?” bit. A more accomplished actor like my cousin Tony or my other cousin Tony would have found the right register for the scene and kept the momentum going instead of derailing it by going over-the-top.
I’m not saying Tse is a bad actor. I think he just needs more experience to fine tune his acting abilities. Actors like Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam Tat-Wah and my cousin Tony perfected their skills by doing hundreds of hours of acting in TVB dramas before they made the transition to the big screen. Tse doesn’t have that depth of experience yet and it showed in those two scenes. He’s well on his way, however, to being a top actor. As Kozo pointed out in his review, Nic Tse is aging well. I don’t think Nic Tse circa 2004 pulls off the “I’m sorry” scene with Derek Kwok Jing-Ying.
- In my review of the BANGKOK DANGEROUS remake, I squeezed my friend Keri’s shoes for being annoyed by Charlie Yeung Choi-Lei’s visible panty line. Now, the shoe is on the other foot as I was annoyed by Miao Pu’s pristinely manicured fingers. They just seemed so out-of-place for Miao’s character. How does a woman in her condition end up with such well-maintained finger nails? It’s not like she can do it herself and it’s not like her almost blind husband is going to do it for her. I suppose that Nick Cheung’s character could have hired a manicurist to come over and do it but that seems unlikely since he was keeping his wife in a hidden room and hostages in another part of the flat.
- Speaking of Nick Cheung, he’s the leader in the clubhouse for my Best Actor pick. I haven’t seen Donnie Yen in IP MAN or Louis Koo in RUN PAPA RUN yet (DVDs are in the mail) but I think Cheung’s work in THE BEAST STALKER is superior to my cousin Tony’s performance in RED CLIFF and Simon Yam’s performance in SPARROW. Not only did Cheung show touching and compassionate sides in the way he dealt with his wife and his little kid hostage, he easily transformed, with his cloudy eye and marked up face, into a relentlessly menacing Terminator-like presence. An excellent, taut performance that demonstrated Cheung’s diverse skill and great range.
- As for Liu Kai-Chi’s prospects in the Best Supporting Actor category, I think he’s in tough going up against the likes of Stephen Chow in CJ7 and Zhang Fengyi’s Cao Cao in RED CLIFF.
- Flaws and all, I think THE BEAST STALKER could have easily taken CJ7’s place in the Best Film category. PROTEGE got nominated last year and it has more holes and bad moments than THE BEAST STALKER.
Image credits: NBC Universal (LAW & ORDER graphic), TVB (AIMING HIGH graphic), ABC (Nancy Kerrigan), Emperor Motion Pictures (THE BEAST STALKER screen grabs)