Film Review: The Beast Stalker

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Berlin International Film Festival --  Forum
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BERLIN -- Actors always say that playing villains is more interesting than playing heroes, and uneven Hong Kong policer "The Beast Stalker" (Ching Yan) proves that they're likewise more intriguing for audiences. This glossy, flashily directed plausibility-stretcher picks up whenever the bad guy's unusual character and history are being explored, but flattens out when the focus shifts back from pursued to pursuer.

The latest effort from prolific director Dante Lam -- the English-language title, which doesn't really fit the narrative, is a blatantly opportunistic attempt to suggest this is somehow a sequel to his 1998 hit "Beast Cops" -- topped Hong Kong boxoffices on a quiet weekend back in November. But international play will likely consist largely of festivals receptive to commercial east-Asian fare.

Structured around coincidences that range from unlikely to outrageous -- Hong Kong is small, but not that small -- the story pivots on the misfortunes suffered by two young children of divorced public prosecutor Ann Gao (Zhang Jingchu). Working on the trial of a criminal mastermind, she's devastated when her daughter is accidentally killed during a shootout -- slain by bullets fired by arrogant, ambitious cop Tong Fei (Nicholas Tse) after a chase involving a spectacular three-way car crash.

The latter is suitably guilt-racked, but gets an instant and rather handy chance at atonement when Ann Gao's surviving moppet is kidnapped by veteran hitman Hung (Nick Cheung.) The latter -- presumably the "beast" of the title -- is half-blind, but otherwise near super-human when it comes to mano-a-mano fighting and eluding the law's clutches, and he has a tragic private life of his own involving his paralyzed spouse.

The nuances in Hung's unpredictable character keep "The Beast Stalker" reasonably watchable during the longish stretches between action set pieces -- none of which comes close, in terms of impact, originality and technical bravura, to the car wreck in the first reel.In contrast to recent, hard-boiled South Korean film "The Chaser," a quite similar variation on these hackneyed themes, tear-jerking sentiment is laid on pretty thick throughout. It mainly serves to ram home the off-puttingly old-fashioned "moral" that, if you want to be a crime-fighting lawyer, being a parent is a bad idea -- and being a single mom, doubly so.

Production: Emperor Classic Films Company; Sil-Metropole Organization (Hong Kong)
Cast: Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Zhang Jingchu, Miao Pu, Lio Kai-Chi
Director: Dante Lam
Screenwriter: Jack Ng
Producers: Albert Lam, Cheung Hong-Tat, Candy Leung
Director of photography: Cheung Man-Po, Tse Chung-To
Production designer: Kong Hun-Lim
Music: Henry Lai
Editor: Chan Ki-Hop
Sales: Emperor, Hong Kong
No rating, 90 minutes
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