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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Beast Stalker [Blu-ray]

(aka "Ching yan")

 

(Dante Lam, 2008)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Emperor Motion Pictures

Blu-ray: Tai Seng Entertainment (U.S.)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:50:05.625

Disc Size: 24,062,560,740 bytes

Feature Size: 23,135,188,992 bytes

Video Bitrate: 21.44 Mbps

Chapters: 18

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: October 27th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 24 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 1770 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1770 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese (traditional and simplified), Malay, none

 

Extras:

• Commentary with Director Dante Lam, Screenwriter Jack Ng, and Production Designer Yau Wai-Ming

 

 

The Film: 8

As Steve McQueen had his Blob and Raymond Burr his Godzilla I guessed Beast Stalker was Nicholas Tse's and Nick Cheung's chance to prove they could do schlock as well as the next guy. In fact, I was very surprised by this movie. From the title, which is the worst thing about Beast Stalker, the film turned out to be a far cry from the fantasy/horror/vampire née video game movie it predicted. Nor is the "Beast" an totally unsympathetic character, thanks largely to Cheung.

But I am getting ahead of the story, which begins with a bust, during which one cop is hurt, a car chase and the accidental shooting of a young girl by police team leader Tong (Tse). Tong has quite the temper, as we witness after the first melee. He angrily chews out one of his crew for anticipating the "Go" command and possibly causing the confusion that resulted in the injury to his colleague. But in the moment, Tong's eagerness to use his weapon in chasing down an important suspect, Cheung Yat-Tung (Keung Ho Man), results in the shooting of the girl, who, inexplicably, is found in the trunk of Cheung's car.

Even though her death is ruled "accidental" Tong is mortified. He can't go on with his job and instead retreats into a kind of purgatory. He stays close to Ling (Wong Suet-yin), the twin sister of the dead girl, as if to await some obscure opportunity for redemption. Her mother, as it happens, is a prosecutor (Zhang Jingchu) whose present case - the action is now three months past the death of her daughter - is Cheung, the very suspect that Tong was chasing. I can predict that it will be difficult for some viewers not to get beyond the coincidences in this story, but I see them as essential in a way that in a typical American movie would be merely faux ironies in place of good story writing. Beast Stalker isn't a stand in for reality, after all, it's an allegory about the dark side of good intentions.

Cheung is a major mobster who, even in custody, commands considerable underworld support. His plan is to intimidate Prosecutor Gao by having her daughter kidnapped. Enter: Hung (Nick Cheung), an assassin, kidnapper and all around thug. Hung has seen better days until not so long ago - his face still shows the ravages of some recent devastation. Not least in significance is one completely clouded eye and the other rapidly deteriorating. Hung needs money not only for his own medication, but for his wife, Li (Mainland actress Miao Pu), bed-ridden and just this side of coma at home, she is in far greater need. For Li, he will do anything. Kidnapping a little girl? Not a problem. Killing her, if necessary? Why not, if the price is right?

It turns out Hung is better at his work than Tong at his, and little Ling is snatched in broad daylight right from under his nose. Tong gives chase, but loses them, as the noose around his own neck tightens visibly. The bulk of the movie involves Tong's efforts at recovering Ling, which, because he has burned so many bridges with his former crew, he must try to manage without overt police help. More significant is that Prosecutor Gao makes it painfully clear to Tong that he is to do nothing, else risk being responsible for the deaths of both her children.

It's a challenge to discuss this movie without giving away certain plot elements that are best left for virgin discovery – not that repeated viewings would be unwelcome. But I can say this with a clear conscience: You know those movies where "things are not as they seem," where, when we learn this or that fact, usually in the final seconds of the movie, we have to reevaluate our thinking about all that has gone before? I have a particular dislike for these plots. I find them a betrayal of the God of Creative Thinking. When Hitchcock does this in Stage Fright we smile at the subterfuge (I do, anyhow), but that was in 1950, and Hitch is careful to create suspicion that our original historian may not be telling the truth about things. But I digress. In Beast Stalker the "reveals" as we call them, may come or may not come as a surprise, but do not require one iota of reevaluation. Instead, they deepen our understanding of character motivation and tie up loose ends that we may have forgotten about – or not, if we were paying attention.

Dante Lam is a director whose work I have not previously seen, though I have heard good things about his 2000 Jiang hu: The Triad Zone. Here he clearly is in control of his medium, which is to indulge his artistic choices at the service of the screenplay. There were times, especially with his concentration of eyes and glass (that's "glass" not "grass") that reminded me of Polanski's Chinatown – and you can't get a better reference than that.

 


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Tai Seng has done well at transferring the natural cityscapes, the deep greens and blood reds of Hung's lair, and brilliant, natural flesh tones surrounding Prosecutor Gao's usually clean world that make up the original photography: Sharp (except for Nicholas Tse, who is often made less distinct in various ways I assume to obscure his natural good looks), well resolved, clear, with excellent control contrast and shadows, yet retaining the grain of the original. This is not one of those typical HK gangster movies, like the recently reviewed Invisible Target for example, where everything is polished to the point of oversharpening. Nor is there that studio look we get by the overuse of more light than could possibly have existed in any given scene - even though there is plenty of opportunity for artistic use of filtered light here. I found no distracting transfer issues such as edge enhancement or DNR, and the source print is without dirt or scratches. The picture looks terrific on my 104 inch screen.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
The Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is far less over-the-top than your typical HK cop movie (again, I have Invisible Target in mind). Street sounds are more subtly mixed. Passing traffic is nicely panned, but our attention is not directed to it. In one extended sequence where Tong is on the trail of a clue he hopes will lead him to Ling, he is stuck on one street with no clear idea of how to proceed while a persistent, muted pounding of heavy construction equipment underscores the suspense. Elsewhere Henry Lai provides ingenious counterpoint with acoustic guitars. It's not an original idea, but surprisingly effective. His scoring for the action sequences involves judicious use of percussion blended perfectly into the effects mix. We are grateful that car crashes, while visually enhanced for stylistic and artistic reasons, lack the typical high frequency exaggeration of broken glass.

 

Operations: 7
The Cantonese is translated into idiomatic English with few spelling or grammatical mistakes. Yet it did bother me that Tong's crew referred to him as "captain" when he was only a sergeant and a simple "boss" would have suited him better. The menu makes clear what languages and subtitles are available – there's even one for the commentary.

 

 

Extras: 3
A sober and informative commentary with the director, screenwriter and production designer, in Chinese with optional English subtitles, accompanies the movie. Their analysis is thoughtful and now again insightful but – my only complaint – a little discontinuous. While they seem to be reviewing their film without a script or notes, they are engaged with each other in a kind of film school give and take. This is the only Bonus Feature.

 

Bottom line: 9
I see maybe an Asian film a week, though I don't report on all of them. While coming out of the Hong Kong cops-and-gangsters genre, Beast Stalker has resonance with some of Korea's best psychological thrillers, like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Memories of Murder. I'm not saying that Beast Stalker is quite at that level of mind-bending intensity, nor is it able to free itself entirely from certain clichés of the genre, but it is closer to them than your typical HK thriller. I should give special mention to both Nick Cheung in a complex dramatic role where he does not get to show off his martial arts, and Miao Pu, who compellingly expresses herself with only her eyes, a muted voice and the fingers of one hand. The image and audio are both very good, and the commentary worth a listen – or, a read. Enthusiastic Thumbs Up.

Leonard Norwitz
April 8th, 2010

 

 

 

 

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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