I love Dante Lam. As a lover of Asian cinema i’ll be the first to tell ya — the last five years have been all about South Korea. Before I get into the meat & potatoes of the films plot, don’t let all this talk of story and drama worry you as the action here is exciting and paced very well. It is a terrific gangster film, arguably the best one to be produced in Hong Kong this year in which Dante Lam has crafted a gritty, visually engaging drama. Barbarian, who is played by Yu Li, who starred in my favorite film of the year, Aftershock, is a skillful thief planning a job that will allow him to retire. Detective Don Lee is working a case with the help of an informant whose safety he’s guaranteed, but the sting goes wrong. Unlike 2008′s Beast Stalker, Nick Cheung Kar Fai now plays the cop and Nic Tse Ting Fung playes the crook.
Along with Johnny To, Benny Chan, Derek Yee, and a couple others, Dante Lam is bringing Hong Kong back to the forefront of Asian cinema. In the world of an informant, nobody can be trusted and most of these people will end up in a very very sad state and this single point have been displayed through various movies especially by the Hong Kong movie industry in the past 10 years. He fully embraces Hong Kong locations and architecture as his playground. Its narrative is remarkably nuanced, characters believable, and the various relationships between them wonderfully developed. I’m glad that The Stool Pigeon succeeded on that point, because it makes a big difference. I just hope this latest movie is a sign of the caliber of work to come from Hong Kong film makers.
In the awesome climax, Barbarian tracks down Ghost Jr. and Dee to a disused classroom. It is here that the movie takes a dark turn and the character development really opens up. Whereas Beast Stalker reached cathartic, thrilling heights, Stool Pigeon adheres more to the tried and true. The violence isn’t so much violence for the sake of blood and fighting, but to depict human suffering. Nick Cheung excels as a tormented Inspector who is hurting from intense guilt and angst when he realizes that he too, has to carry out orders from the top brass, and that he is just another puppet on a string. The scars are psychological rather than physical.
As the title indicates, Stool Pigeon is about informants and every step along the way, these characters are in pain and you can empathize with them. This is a deeply characterised film from top to bottom, with good chemistry between Tse and Cheung. Oddly, Lu Yi is dubbed into Cantonese while Guey Lun-Mei speaks in her own Mandarin. That is just a small anamoly is an otherwise perfect film. I loved it and it was a great way to wrap up watching action films in 2010 for me. The ending was something I particularly liked. Not just for its content, but its execution as well. HK filmmakers take note, this is how it is done. Also, if you thought it didn’t get any deeper, the main guy also has his wife Cher, from whom he is now separated, tried to commit suicide a few months previously and has since had amnesia. This is a heavy film!