Movies · Reviews

Foreign Objects: The Stool Pigeon (Hong Kong)

By  · Published on December 3rd, 2010

You’d think being an informant for the police would be a fantastic career choice. Constantly playing both sides of the law, living the glamorous snitchy lifestyle in seedy locales, always wondering if your criminal friends are going to discover what you’re up to and silence your squealing ways… but you’d be wrong. And clearly not someone who’s ever watched a movie involving a police informant. (Starsky & Hutch’s Huggy Bear notwithstanding.)

Detective Don Lee (Nick Cheung) is working a case with the help of an informant whose safety he’s guaranteed, but when the sting goes bad the snitch is attacked and left clinging to life. Time moves on and new cases roll in, and soon Lee is looking for a new inside man. He finds that man in Ghost (Nicholas Tse), a recently paroled street racer desperate to free his sister from her life of forced prostitution. Ghost has no interest in the job, but the promise of cash means little sis can stop working on her back. Lee helps Ghost work his way into a gang of brutal jewel thieves, and perhaps not so surprisingly, things don’t go as planned.

The fairly simple setup belies a few interesting plot turns for each of the main characters. Lee struggles with his decision to place low-level criminals in real danger, but he also has his own personal turmoil involving his wife. If the film stalls at any point it’s here as Lee’s situation goes from mildly melodramatic to patently ridiculous. Luckily the detours into this subplot are short on running time. Ghost’s story is a bit more traditional as he is fighting to not only save his sister but to help his new love, Dee (Lunmei Kwai)… who just so happens to be the pregnant girlfriend of lead baddie, Barbarian. She’s no wallflower though and is more than capable of holding her own. This particular trait comes in handy after she makes a particularly poor decision regarding Barbarian and his money.

Don’t let all this talk of story and drama worry you as the action here is exciting and beautifully paced. Ghost takes off from police roadblock with Dee in car and leads the cops and the viewers on a high speed chase through tight streets. She smiles and enjoys the ride to the sounds of “White Christmas” playing loudly throughout the chase. There are a handful of fights as well with the most visceral one being a chase and assault involving machetes. Those wielding the blades are bloodthirsty and those being chased are characters we’ve come to care about resulting in a scene filled with urgency and tension.

Cheung and Tse both give strong, emotional performances and serve to anchor the film’s drama and action scenes well. Cheung in particular wears much of his character’s pain on his face and in his motions, even during the more contrived sequences involving the goofy wife storyline. Tse sees more of the action and is credible as both tough guy and potential victim. The two actors are reunited here after starring together in The Beast Stalker, but they’ve swapped allegiances and sides of the law.

Dante Lam (The Beast Stalker, The Sniper) is one of a handful of directors helping bring Hong Kong back to the forefront of Asian cinema. Along with Johnny To, Benny Chan, Derek Yee, and a couple others the industry is climbing back from a decade or more of third rate action films infused with high amounts of melodrama and cheese. Lam succeeds again here with a solid fusion of drama, action, and style. Gunfights, knife fights, car chases… Lam weaves them expertly throughout an engrossing tale trust, betrayal, and loss. Toss in one fierce and brutal machete fight towards the end and you have yourself one of the most entertaining Hong Kong films of the year.

The Upside: Strong acting, plot takes some unfamiliar turns, brutal machete fight

The Downside: Lee’s storyline almost crosses the line into ridiculous melodrama

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week looking for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent!

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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.