THE STOOL PIGEON a.k.a. THE BEAST STALKER 2 [SIN YAN | XIAN REN | 铫人]

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HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Dante Lam  Written by: Dante Lam, Wai Lun Ng  Produced by: Candy Leung, Dai Song, Zhongjun Wang, Albert Yeung  Cinematography by: Chong-To Tse  Editing by: Ki-Hop Chan, Matthew Hui  Music by: Henry Lai Cast: Nick Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Lunmei Kwai, Kai Chi Liu, Yi Lu, Pu Miao, Yi Lu, Sherman Chung, Deep Ng, Philip Keung, Jing-Hung Kwok, Shing-Cheung Lee, Rob Lok, Yeung Ming Wan

It’s getting a wee bit too obvious now that Dante Lam remakes his one script time and again; had there not been THE SNIPER in between THE BEST STALKER and FIRE OF CONSCIENCE (as well as THE STOOL PIGEON), we would have noticed that probably earlier: THE STOOL PIGEON follows the outline of FIRE OF CONSCIENCE faithfully and mimics quite a few elements of THE BEAST STALKER.

The good news is that even on a bad day Dante Lam, in his current form, can outstrip most of Hong Kong’s crime dramas: just like its predecessor, THE STOOL PIGEON approximates the works of Michael Mann, taking its story about cops and robbers to the mean streets of Kowloon and the grim world of organized crime. Nick Cheung plays inspector Don who frequently uses informants (so-called stool pigeons) willing to rat others out for money. The problem with that is the informants are a volatile, and dangerous, species that cannot easily be trusted, while on the other hand they are living in constant fear for their lives due to their cooperation with the police.

When Don learns about a jewelry heist that will go down shortly, he tries to infiltrate the gang lead by a notorious criminal called Barbarian to prevent the worst. Ghost Jr., an ex-con and underground racing ace, seems to be the right choice to be Don’s stool pigeon for this mission, but what Don doesn’t know is that Ghost Jr. has some serious issues to deal with, including a sister who works as a prostitute to clear the family’s debt. But once things are set in motion there is no turning back and everyone gets dragged through what’s probably the most heinous experience of his/her life.

Dante Lam has meticulously organized his story universe: the characterization, the motivations, the interwoven plot threads, the duel between the seemingly good, the bad and the ugly, all that is well thought-out, very well scripted and flawlessly filmed. Some even rush to the judgment that Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse both deliver their best performances so far, just as the movie has been hailed as this year’s best Hong Kong movie and safe award winner. Yet, I wouldn’t fully agree (the movie will probably win awards though). Despite the script being somewhat too clinical for my taste there is basically nothing much to complain about, but to put things in perspective let’s have another look at FIRE OF CONSCIENCE without indulging the pleasures of side-by-side comparisons too much.

For one thing, THE STOOL PIGEON lacks originality as FIRE was there first. Then, I feel that FIRE OF CONSCIENCE always found the sweet spot: its action, violence, emotions and gripping drama were taken to the edge, but never beyond that point. In comparison, THE STOOL PIGEON often seems exaggerated and as a result less believable; it’s like Mr. Lam forgot when to stop, when enough is enough. More than once the actors are forced to exceed their capabilities: the line they are crossing may be thin, but it’s there. Their discomfort is noticeable, just as some side plots are clearly taken too far. THE STOOL PIGEON is losing focus and is drifting away sometimes at the expense of the action as well as the film’s overall intensity. Too much is going on, and too little of that contributes to character or story development.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not appreciable to see a rather complex story laid out in front of us amid an overwhelming amount of McScripts, but we should also not forget that complexity must not distract from the intrinsic conflict and the morale the tale aims to tell. I believe FIRE OF CONSCIENCE did a better job in staying very close to its protagonists and its deeper insights of the human condition; all along the way however it threw in many complications for texture without disrupting the flow of the film or its impact.

It would be a preposterous demand to ask for a more stringent script next time as we must be thankful for what Mr. Lam has achieved recently, but there can be no doubt that THE STOOL PIGEON is losing momentum here and there, is getting too talkative at times and overall misses punch. THE STOOL PIGEON is anything but suave, but it’s like all characters are set on a collision course and then make a lot of detours before finally clashing.

Despite the honorable attempt to excel FIRE OF CONSCIENCE Mr. Lam’s THE STOOL PIGEON is more detached from its characters and their perceived realities (which were the key driver for their actions): while it is still a superior thriller, gripping drama and fast-paced action movie THE STOOL PIGEON suffers from the filmmaker’s dilemma to either produce a carbon copy of a great predecessor or to throw it all overboard and start anew. Mr. Lam couldn’t decide, and as a result is trying too hard to be more diverse, more intelligent and necessarily different without really improving his well-crafted formula.

THE STOOL PIGEON, while standing out as clearly above-average thriller, is a variation on a strong theme that is falling behind its own aspirations.

J.


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