Monday, August 23, 2010

STOOL PIGEON - Lam's Crowning Glory

STOOL PIGEON (crime thriller)
Cast: Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Kwai Lun-Mei, Yi Lu and Liu Kai chi
Director: Dante Lam
Screenplay: Jack Ng Wai Lun
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Nicholas Tse and Kwai Lun-Mei in STOOL PIGEON

PREAMBLE: A 'stool pigeon' is another name for a police informer - and this Dante Lam-Jack Ng collaboration smacks of the 2002 hit Infernal Affairs. After watching it, I get the feeling that some Hollywood studio would be buying the rights for a remake, just like it had been done with The Departed, Martin Scorsese's 2006 remake of Infernal Affairs.

After Beast Stalker (2008), Sniper (2009) and Fire of Conscience, this one looks set to cap Lam's career as film-maker. It grips its viewers from start to end - and never lets go!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Police Inspector Don Lee (Nick Cheung) relies very much on his 'stool pigeons' to provide information for his drugs and criminal cases. However, an act of betrayal involving his last informant (played by Liu Kai Chi) leaves him wrecked with guilt. Don resolves to be more careful with his next 'stoolie', an ex-convict nicknamed Ghost (Nicholas Tse), whom Don plans to plant as getaway driver for a gold heist gang led by Barbarian (Lu Yi).

Ghost, a street-racer who is determined to save his sister from loan sharks, looks like the man for the job. Problem is can they trust each other enough to see the job through?

HITS & MISSES: Movies about snitches, moles and informers are nothing new. However, Lam gives the genre a new dimension by delving deeper into the intricate relationship between police handler and informant. One sequence has Don telling his rookie officers to be friendly with their informers to win their trust, but not to be too close or they would lose their objectivity. This, of course, is easier said than done when lives and limbs are at stake.

Lam also takes great care with character development. The backgrounds of Don Lee and Ghost are nicely fleshed out (with even a twist or two) - and there is an emotional connection between Ghost and Barbarian's girlfriend Dee (Kwai Lun-Mei). This romantic touch not only lends narrative power and depth to the movie but also sets up the groundwork for the explosive and breath-taking ending.

Of course, for any movie to be compelling, it has to have a great cast. Nick Cheung has won Best Actor awards for his role in Beast Stalker and now it looks like Tse's turn. Nicholas gives Ghost such a powerful portrayal that it reminds me of a young Robert De Niro. His character is so full of anger and angst that it threatens to explode at any time. Cheung, as expected, has the audience rooting for him all the time, while Kwai steals the show everytime she appears as the scheming gang moll.

There are some awkward and over-the-top scenes here and there but they do not mar the overall flow of the movie.

THE LOWDOWN: Arguably, the crowning glory of Dante Lam's career and a must for Hong Kong action fans.


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