Posts Tagged ‘Dante Lam Movie’

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

2010/09/09

http://www.emp.hk/

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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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THE SNIPER [SUN CHEUNG SAU a.k.a. SHEN QIANG SHOU | 神枪手]

2010/06/03

http://www.mediaasia.com/thesniper

HONG KONG 2009   Directed by: Dante Lam  Written by: Jack Ng Produced by: Candy Leung  Cinematography: Cheung Man-Po  Editing: Angie Lam  Cast: Richie Ren, Edison Chen, Huang Xiaoming, Bowie Lam, Kai Chi Liu, Jack Kao, Wilfried Lau, Mango Wong, Michelle Ye, Charmaine Fong, Patrick Tang

With Dante Lam’s latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE released it’s a good opportunity to revisit his 2009 THE SNIPER.

Ming (Richie Ren) is the top shooter of the police force, but that is thanks to the fact that the former No. 1 is doing time in jail: Ching (Xiaoming Huang) accidentally shot a hostage on duty and was sentenced to 4 years due to manslaughter. Once released he has only one goal: take revenge. Not only is he after the criminals originally responsible for the hostage-taking, but he is also convinced that his colleagues gave false testimony of what happened back then and that as a result he was convicted. A duel between Ming and Ching begins but it gets even more complicated when the ambitious newcomer OJ (Edison Chen) gets in between them, trying to claim the top spot in the sniper hierarchy.

THE SNIPER is probably most notorious for its delay due to Edison Chen’s photo scandal and for being the first film of Chen released after the scandal. Originally scheduled for release in May 2008 it only hit cinemas about one year later. Quite a big ballyhoo for a movie that only co-stars Chen along others, but it also proves that he was vital for marketing THE SNIPER in Asia.

The story of the movie is basic and hardly ever getting out of the never-ending cycle of revenge. It doesn’t feel like a revenge flick though as a lot of time is spent on painting a glamorized picture of the snipers as a heroic elite force of the Hong Kong police. Once the proposition of the story is revealed there is no development whatsoever. The situation is crystal clear and THE SNIPER indulges in the stand-off between the antagonists. Everything else is irrelevant.

On the other hand you can easily fall for the movie for its aesthetics and fast-paced, hard-boiled action sequences. Again I have to acknowledge that Lam is one of the few directors in Hong Kong who never tries to apply stupid humor or a mix-and-match mentality to his action movies to please the crowd. Dante Lam’s action films (not necessarily the others) are as straightforward as they can possibly get in HK, honest cinema that doesn’t compromise.

Its story may not be THE SNIPER’s strength, but it is pretty much what Lam does in most of his actioners and what he has perfected with his latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE. The duel between two men who are the same and very different from each other at the same time is his trademark concept; the way his heroes and anti-heroes perceive themselves and how others see them, and how their own image is reflected by the enemy, and how that starts to change them, make them realize certain truths about their life and personality – that’s what makes Lam’s movies outstanding and moves them forward at a neck-breaking pace.

THE SNIPER is reduced to the bear duel and uses the sniper topic to make the shootouts look different from many other films, adding high-octane impact thanks to all the fancy weaponry. What’s missing is detailed characterization, personal conflict, depth and emotions, more complexity and a more intertwined relationship between the protagonists, all of which has made FIRE OF CONSCIENCE a great movie.

THE SNIPER has all the prerequisites and the glossy finish, but it’s like the patty is missing between the bun and all the salad and the dressing. It’s a preparation for greater things to come, but still worth watching if you generally like Lam’s take on Hong Kong action cinema.

J.


FIRE OF CONSCIENCE [FUR LONG a.k.a. HUO LONG | 火龙]

2010/05/15

http://www.mediaasia.com/fireofconscience/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Dante Lam  Story: Dante Lam Written by: Wai Lun Ng  Produced by: Dante Lam, Candy Leung  Cinematography by: Charlie Lam, Chung-To Tse  Editing: Ki-Hop Chan  Music: Henry Lai Cast: Leon Lai, Richie Ren, Baoqiang Wang, Vivian Hsu, Kai Chi Liu, Michelle Ye, Wilfried Lau, Charles Ying, Vanessa Yeung, Pinkie Cheung

Wow. Hard to believe Hong Kong can still produce something like this. Brash, straight forward, undiluted, no funny hats. But then, it’s director Dante Lam behind FIRE OF CONSCIENCE who has brought us some of the most exciting action movies of the late golden era of Hong Kong cinema, just as much as he is one of the last men standing to deliver the goods in the 21st century.

FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is how we’d expect it to be, and then it’s not. Blending some of the most (over)used motifs of Hong Kong crime thrillers it elevates the story that revolves around various connected cases of murder and robbery, a depressed cop who lost his wife and baby in a seemingly random attack and police corruption as expressed through a rogue and unscrupulous senior police office far beyond your average actioner.

Not much seems new here at first, but I’d refrain from saying that Dante Lam’s FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is just thick and sugary eye-candy covering up the lack of substance. On the contrary, I feel that Lam goes as far as that is virtually possible with an action thriller like this. FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is as good as it gets indeed: a strong and convincing drama, an intriguing and complex story of fate and betrayal, a hyper-violent action fest and an enormously tense thriller.

It may not be up to the ISO-standardized script excellence of Hollywood and indeed misses inescapable logic at times, but other than that Dante Lam’s FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is competing with the iconic works of Michael Mann or John Frankenheimer.

If you have grown up with the Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s you will quickly realize how much FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is revisiting the same motifs, relationships and places while at the same time breathing the post-97 spirit and a todayness characterized by a strange where-do-we-go-from-here melancholy.

With all political and administrative systems working and new rules in place after the handover it almost seems like the time was ripe to get a taste of the street again. Leon Lai (finally his long-awaited come-back to action cinema) is like a modern Taxi Driver, a depressed loner, good cop but often erratic lunatic who is motivated by finding his wife’s killer and sleeping in his car ever since the murder happened. He’s on a permanent lookout, yet it’s like only the street feels like home, feels real, makes him feel alive.

Then there’s the mainland gang, a cliché used in many of modern Hong Kong crime films. But something is different here, again. Never since the late 80’s I felt that the “mainland criminal” is more than a biased image of the quintessential villain and the perfect concept of the enemy for a Hong Kong audience. Not this time: in a way Lam is returning to the LONG ARM OF THE LAW realism, drawing a similar picture of people who become criminals out of necessity, not because it’s fun.

Their desperation, dependence and hopelessness are well captured in FIRE OF CONSCIENCE and personified through one poor chap who is used and abused by the ruthless masterminds. But even the leaders of the gang, being the cold killers that they are, have this aura of “going-nowhere”. It’s not because this mission is their endgame (it is not meant to be), but because they know there’s nothing left to lose, and moreover nothing left to gain, now or ever.

It is no surprise to see that the ones having everything – a beautiful soon-to-be wife, a big house, a good career – are in no way different from the ones who have already lost everything. While Detective Manfred (Leon Lai) has something to live for (finding the killer of his wife) Inspector Kee (Richie Ren) has literally been robbed of that last reason to keep going. Or at least that’s how he sees it.

Honor and loyalty are values of the past; honor is down the drain and the only loyalty left lies with the biggest monetary gain, or with the loved ones long gone. What drives both men nevertheless is their Zodiac – the dragon that makes them powerful leaders, but also makes them think that they can do anything and get away with it. They can’t. There’s always a price to pay.

Dante Lam is staying true to his formula yet excels himself, setting a new standard for high-octane action movies made in Hong Kong anno 2010 altogether. With over-the-top action sequences, highly emotional moments, gripping dialogue and some memorable set pieces like the opening sequence and some gruel shootouts, FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is the best HK action movie since I don’t know when.

Watching FIRE OF CONSCIENCE evokes memories of some of the best movies of this kind, of the aforementioned LONG ARM OF THE LAW, but also John Woo’s HARDBOILED as well as one of my all-time favorites, Ringo Lam’s FULL ALERT. It speaks for the quality of FIRE OF CONSCIENCE that it doesn’t remind me of any of the latest productions. FIRE OF CONSCIENCE may not be able to repeat the greatness of some of the classics, but it delivers a kinetic rollercoaster ride second to none by today’s standard, wonderfully written, acted and photographed.

Usually I’d give FIRE OF CONSCIENCE four stars as not everything’s perfect, but just for the sake of a 2010 movie that actually looks and feels like some of the best movies done in Hong Kong in the 90s, I give it another star. Call me nostalgic, but looking back isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you can even learn for the future. Just ask Dante Lam. He knows.

J.