Movies · Reviews

Foreign Objects: The Beast Stalker (Hong Kong)

By  · Published on October 28th, 2009

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…

Hong Kong!

There are two quick issues we need to acknowledge and dispense with before we can proceed with this review of Dante Lam’s recent action flick, The Beast Stalker. First, that is a terrible goddamn title. I know Lam made his name with a cool little movie called Beast Cops, but in addition to there being no relation between the two films it’s just a poor title for an action movie without beasts in it. Yes yes, I know the term can be used metaphorically, but it implies a villain far more evil and bloodthirsty than the one we have here. Second, there’s a whopper of a plot point you’ll just have to accept if you’re going to enjoy this movie. It involves a certain prosecuter who’s allowed to stay on a particular case against all logic, reason, and common sense…

Tong (Nicholas Tse) is a tough, by-the-books police sergeant who demands perfection of himself and his team. When a bust almost meets with the death of an officer due to an error on the part of another, Tong chastises and demotes the man in full public view. (Don’t worry, the belittled cop doesn’t become the cliched villain of the film.) A call comes in about an escaped convict and his armed accomplices nearby and Tong and another detective head out after them. The dramatic car chase ends with a spectacular multi-vehicle crash and shoot-out. Tong disables the getaway vehicle with several rounds from his handgun unaware that there’s a young girl in the car’s trunk. She dies and Tong is placed on administrative leave… jump forward a year and Ann Gao (Jingchi Zhang) is prosecuting Yat-tung Cheung, the convict from the earlier escape attempt, and she also happens to be the mother of the little girl who died in the trunk (cue eye-roll). Unbeknownst to Gao, her other daughter, Ling, has recently made a friend in the form of a certain guilt-ridden detective named Tong. When the mob boss on trial orders a man named Hung (Nick Cheung) to kidnap Ling and force the prosecutor to lose the case against him, Tong finds himself with an opportunity for redemption if he can save this little girl.

The Beast Stalker does so much right that I’m going to start with the few bits it gets wrong. First and foremost is that ridiculous contrivance of the prosecutor being allowed to stay on the case even though it was the accused’s escape attempt that led directly to her daughter’s death. The court brushes it away with an empty ruling, but it would never happen. No, not even in Hong Kong. And Tong’s downward spiral and subsequent disintigration away from his team aren’t given enough screen time. Tse does a solid job of portraying a cop in turmoil, but we don’t really get to see the reason for his newfound distance from the team. This is relevant because later he refuses to ask for help which doesn’t really sound like one of the steps towards recovery.

Those two issues aside, The Beast Stalker succeeds on all other fronts. It is a dark, gritty tale punctuated with some brutal and exciting action sequences as well as several scenes of real suspense. If killing a child in the first act wasn’t bad enough, you know all bets are off when Hung brings Ling to a surgeon to prove his seriousness. “Which hand do you write with?” he asks the terrified child. She replies that it’s the right, so Hung tells the doctor to “cut the left” as the camera pans down to a hacksaw being sterilized… And we all know how risky child actors can be, but Suet-yin Wong is quite good as little Ling. She’s resourceful, expressive, and more than a little believable in scenes where she’s in danger.

The action is impressive starting with the opening chase and car crash. The impacts are shown from various angles in real time and slow-motion, and aside from a brief bit of “slow-mo” acting the entire scene is extremely well done. This is especially important as the crash comes back a few times throughout the film from varying perspectives, and each one of them match up and mesh perfectly. There’s also a small amount of gunplay (including a pretty cool POV shot not quite down the barrel of the gun), but the remainder of the action consists of fight scenes and foot chases that come across as more about effectiveness than showiness. A fight between Tong and Hung isn’t a ballet of martial arts moves but instead quickly becomes a brawl with thumbs in eyes, grappling, and a stabbing.


Another reason why the film works as well as it does is the level of acting with special mention going to Cheung’s portrayal of a three dimensional villain in the form of the kidnapper. He’s a visual menace with a scarred face and a greyed-over eye, and we know he’s capable of some truly dark deeds. We see the end of a previous kidnapping where he poisons the girl, watches her die, disposes of the body, and then cleans up the captivity room… just in time for sweet little Ling to be strapped into the same chair. At the same time though, Hung is also seen caring for his paralyzed wife. He’s truly sweet and loving with her while in the next room a small child sits trapped in darkness. Cheung does a fantastic job of showing all sides of the character and making each of them real and somewhat relatable.

The film’s greatest strength and biggest surprise is the way it brings the characters together. The crash at the center of it all isn’t over-played for melodramatic value, but it is revisited to show each person’s place in the film’s universe… each person’s responsibility and reason as well. Could it stand for something bigger? Sure, but it just as easily could stand on it’s own for the sake of the film’s story. I haven’t seen most of Lam’s fourteen or so films, but of those I have The Beast Stalker is easily the most entertaining and assured. Even allowing for the film’s inherent ‘Hong Kong logic’ flaw the film works on the levels of both strong action and fairly intelligent drama. It’s still a pretty stupid title though.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.