Director: Dante Lam Chiu Yin
Writer: Jack Ng Wai Lun
Producer: Candy Leung, Zhang Dajun, Ren Yue
Cast: Nick Cheung Ka Fai, Nicholas Tse Ting Fung, Chin Kar Lok, Miao Pu, Liu Kai Chi, Lu Yi, Sherman Chung Shu Man, Gwei Lun-Mei, Deep Ng Ho Hong, Derek Kwok Jing Hung
Running Time: 113 min.
For the creative team behind “The Stool Pigeon,” making this film must have been a no-brainer. Director Dante Lam previously collaborated with actors Nick Cheung and Nicolas Tse to great success with 2008’s “Beast Stalker.” That film earned Nick Cheung a Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award and a Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor, and the screenplay and editing nabbed similar nominations. Their 2010 follow-up “The Stool Pigeon” carries the feeling of a well-earned victory lap: it’s an entertaining if unremarkable Hong Kong thriller.
Dante Lam has had an interesting career trajectory. During the early 00’s he seemed to be mired in comedy and action fluff, co-directing movies like “The Twins Effect” and “Love on the Rocks.” Ambition must have bit Lam in the ass since as of late he’s attempted to become something like the Hong Kong analog to Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) or Michael Mann. Lam specializes in crime films that provide an in-depth look at their gritty characters. He delivers action scenes with a street-level, handheld-camera style. Although Dante Lam hasn’t achieved the level of Michael Mann when it comes to intense character studies and kinetic violence, one senses that he does have at least one truly great movie in him, waiting to come out.
Lam has stated he was conscious of trying not to repeat “Beast Stalker’s” formula with this film, however successful it was. “The Stool Pigeon” is almost the flipside of the popular “Infernal Affairs” series: instead of following a cop who’s undercover with the Triads, we see what it’s like for criminals who decide to become informants for the police. Nick Cheung plays the main character, a Hong Kong supercop who is haunted by the mistakes of his past. His latest informant is a street racer named Ghost Jr., played by Nicolas Tse. Together they’re working to bring down a ruthless criminal named Barbarian before he pulls of his latest jewelry store heist. In the meantime, Nicolas falls for Barbarian’s girl (Kwai Lun-mei) and Cheung worries that another informant is about to die on his watch.
Nick Cheung brings a heightened level of authenticity to his role, seeing as how he was an actual member of the Royal Hong Kong Police officer for five years; and the RHKP’s most beloved actor, Danny Lee, was the one who helped Cheung get his start in films. Nicolas Tse delivers a dependable performance, even if the script calls for him to smoke more than act. The real revelation here is Taiwanese actress Kwai Lun-mei. I was shocked to read online that Lun-mei has a ‘good girl’ image in the press because in “The Stool Pigeon” she comes across as a smolderingly sexy and dangerous criminal who isn’t afraid to open fire at a moment’s notice. It’s a shame that the screenplay gives her character so little backstory or motivation; Kwai Lun-mei appears to have created this interesting but troubled woman out of thin air.
Viewers who are searching for the next great action movie out of Hong Kong may find themselves slightly disappointed by “The Stool Pigeon.” The film is nearly two hours long but the script favors melodrama over action. Towards the end of the movie, a subplot involving Nick Cheung and his ex-wife takes center stage and injects the film with an almost overbearing amount of emoting. The unpredictable plot twists that follow during the final thirty minutes attempt to recall the bygone era of early 90’s Hong Kong crime films, but what’s missing is an innovative or tensely-staged shootout. The story’s denouement is an exercise in brutal stabbings and bludgeoning that goes for a primal rather than choreographed feel.
“The Stool Pigeon” has a slick look with an earthy color palette that recalls Christopher Nolan’s two Batman films. Hong Kong media outlets reported that Nick Cheung was unhappy with the amount of screentime he received in the film but Cheung later said his words were taken out of context. The film does struggle to focus on two protagonists at once, with Cheung and Nicolas Tse disappearing for periods of time, but I imagine that fans of either actor will go home happy. I personally would have enjoyed “The Stool Pigeon” more if the action quotient was a little higher but, regardless, “The Stool Pigeon” is a gutsy thriller from a region that could use more gutsy thrillers from filmmakers that aren’t Johnnie To.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10