Dante Lam Capsule Reviews
Beast Cops (1998) — August 5, 2017
Not only does this have Anthony Wong at his most righteously sleazy playing the streetwise cop who bends but doesn’t quite break the rules in the interest of maintaining the delicate balance of the community under his protection (ie: the Triads are OK if they’re just into gambling and prostitution, but drug dealing and violence against non-gang members is too much), but it also has the most Michael Wong performance ever from Michael Wong, playing the straight arrow cop who gets assigned to be Anthony’s partner/boss, a man so ill-fitting the improvisational Cantonese community he’s assigned to that everyone refers to him as a white guy (Michael, like his character, is half-Chinese and not quite fluent, his American accent is extremely noticeable).
The metaphor is obvious enough: the foreign, authoritarian presence arrives in Hong Kong and attempts to impose order on its barely managed chaos. The cop story is mirrored by a generic Triad story, in which Roy Cheung’s old school honorable crook is supplanted by his younger, less moral protégé (Patrick Tam, not the director, but the singer who beat out Sammi Cheng at the 1988 New Talent Singing Awards). The bulk of the film though ignores the familiar plotting in favor of character bits and street-level explorations of the neighborhood Wong works in, along with the cops’ relationships with women (all the women in the film are prostitutes).
Directors Gordon Chan and Dante Lam take a New Wave style handheld approach to the city, one that had been largely abandoned in the wake of A Better Tomorrow and heroic bloodshed. The movie is the city, and the city is Anthony Wong.
Hit Team (2001) — February 19, 2018
Grungy little police procedural that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but has some nifty gun fights and a lot of blue light.
The initial premise, that an undercover cop, paralyzed in the line of duty, is disavowed by the police force so they won’t have to pay for his medical bills, is pretty clever.
Beast Stalker (2008) — June 20, 2018
Solid cop movie with good action scenes done in the annoying mid-2000s digital shakycam style. Gets all Griffithian at the end, both with a cascade of grain and Nicholas Tse’s acting, channeling of one of those hams the Gish sisters blew off the screen. I guess Nick Cheung is the Gish in this analogy.
Unbeatable (2013) — November 21, 2014
An assemblage of fight-movie tropes from The Champ through On the Waterfront and Rocky all the way to Million Dollar Baby. Nick Cheung plays an ex-champ down on his luck who flees his debts to Macau where he takes up a job coaching an aspiring MMA fighter. He gets a room with a barely-sane young mother and her precociously adorable daughter (the mom is distraught over the death of her son). At its best, the film almost becomes Rocky as told from Mickey’s perspective, and there’s an interesting slight twist where the fighters fight not to prove something to themselves (Karate Kid-style) but rather as a means of proving to other people that anything is possible, that standing up to adversity is a thing. But beyond that it’s exactly kind of melodrama you expect it to be, enlivened by fine performances and director Dante Lam’s glossy Hong Kong visual style.
Nick Cheung received a number of Best Actor award nominations and wins for his performance, well deserved. But his abs surely deserved some Supporting Actor consideration, or at least Visual Effects.