Hong Kong police Sergeant Tong (Nicholas Tse) is hell-bent on nailing the city’s most dangerous crime kingpin, Cheung Yat-tung (Patrick Keung Hiu-Man). However, his pursuit ends in a fateful car crash that sparks a tragic chain of events that includes Tong accidentally killing the eldest daughter of Ann Gao (Zhang Jingchu), the public prosecutor handling the case against Cheung. Three years later, a shattered Tong bonds with Ann’s younger daughter Ling (Wong Suet-Yin), who is subsequently kidnapped on Cheung’s orders, hoping to derail the case against him. The kidnapper is Hung (Nick Cheung), a ruthless contract killer but a man beset by personal tragedy. Against Ann’s wishes, Tong races against time to rescue Lin and atone for his past sins.
Redemption often makes for a potent theme in thrillers and one can easily see why Cantopop idol Nicholas Tse latched onto this role. Often unfairly derided as a pretty-boy, Tse first branched out with a villainous role in art-house fantasy The Promise (2005). Here he is impressively haggard and gut-wrenching as a man haunted by having seemingly wrecked the lives of all who surround him. One poignant scene finds him begging help from a police officer (Derek Kwok Jing-Hung) whom he needlessly reprimanded to the point of ruining his career and whom we subsequently discover is his cousin. Throughout the movie it remains an open question whether Tong has his own interests or those of the victim at heart, given how his actions increasingly endanger Ling, who thankfully proves a smart little cookie in her own right. Nick Cheung is equally compelling as the half-blind contract killer caring for his paraplegic wife (Miao Pu). A man driven to do despicable things and who hates himself every step of the way.
Admittedly most thrillers rely on contrivance to a certain degree, but The Beast Stalker often feels overly so. Coincidence is piled upon coincidence, from the reveal of how Ann’s elder daughter met a tragic end, to Detective Sun’s (Liu Kai-Chi) chance discovery of Hung in a fast-food restaurant, to the final twist that ties all these disparate fates together. Everything seems just that little bit pat, akin to the overly bright, mainstream-friendly filmic style favoured by director Dante Lam. Lam made the overrated but award-winning Beast Cops (1998) and the charming The Twins Effect (2003). He borrows a stylistic lick or two from TV’s 24 but his use of handheld digital cameras crackles with a distinctive Hong Kong energy and his vivid staging of the opening car crash is inspired.
Shaw Brothers veteran Tung Wai handles fight choreography. He intelligently stages clumsy, sweaty, brutal action that is far from stylized. In fact the film avoids the expected fight to the death between flawed hero and tragic villain in favour of something altogether more poignant and human. Nicholas Tse pulls out all the acting stops for an emotionally-draining finale. But while taut and well acted by all, The Beast Stalker is not quite as gut-wrenching as it could have been.