Beast Stalker / Ching Yan (dir. Dante Lam, 2017) – A reckless young cop gets into a severe car accident during a police chase that changes lives of its victims.
Ching Yan directly translates to ‘Witness’. In a misguided move to draw fans of Dante Lam’s previous film Beast Cops, it was deliberately mistranslated into Beast Stalker, a misnomer that misses its mark entirely. But look past the b-movie title, and what you will get are the reasons why Hong Kong directors have remained at the forefront of action cinema for years.
Crime syndicates roam the city of bustling markets and works-in-progress, where the story begins in the midst of a police operation. The team barges into action and almost suffers its losses. When Sun (Liu Kai-chi) takes a bullet in his vest, Sergeant Tong Fei (Nicholas Tse) severely berates Michael (Derek Kok) for his nearly fatal mistake. It is the perfect introduction to Fei, whose hotheaded personality eventually drives him to a second mistake – his own.
In his chase after wanted criminals, he gets involved in a devastating car accident that severely cripples Sun (Liu Kai-chi). An injured Fei pursues on foot and manages to take down crime lord Cheung Yat-tung (Philip Keung). But to his horror, he discovers that his gunfight had also taken an unintended victim, in the young daughter of public prosecutor Gao Min (Zhang Jingchu).
Fei spends the next three months living in guilt, quietly watching over her surviving younger daughter Ling. Peace ends when Gao Min is assigned to the trial of Cheung. The latter immediately orders the kidnapping of Ling, forcing her mother to falsify evidence. Fei witnesses the crime and sees his second chance to make things right, determined to rescue Ling from the dangerous hired gun Hung King (Nick Cheung) himself.
His opportunity for redemption is all too convenient, and the contrivances may be hard to swallow. Then again, stranger things have happened in real life. Such a crime is also easy to forgive when strong characterisation made the leading men credible and easy to empathise with, despite the almost impossible circumstances.
In particular, Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung’s characters are exceptionally written and acted. As the story reveals how they each struggle to cope with their own regrets, their emotional performances prove genuinely heartbreaking. The pair’s histories of trauma lend depth to what otherwise might have been a straightforward shoot-’em-up.
As a result, Dante Lam’s slick action choreography comes with plenty of heart, its arc exceeding that of the regular genre film. There is no leaving the edge of our seats with a sympathetic cop in constant peril, pit against a man with all guns blazing and everything to lose.
Contrivances aside, Beast Stalker is a fine exemplar of modern Hong Kong cinema that neatly couples nuanced character-driven drama with high-octane action.