Beast Cops (1998)

Directed by: Gordon Chan & Dante Lam
Written by:
Gordon Chan & Chan Hing-Kar
Producers: Gordon Chan & John Chong
Starring: Anthony Wong, Michael Wong, Kathy Chow, Stephanie Che, Sam Lee & Patrick Tam

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Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Picture
Best Director (Gordon Chan & Dante Lam)
Best Screenplay (Gordon Chan & Chan Hing-Kar)
Best Actor (Anthony Wong)
Best Supporting Actor (Patrick Tam)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:

Best Supporting Actress (Stephanie Che)
Best Film Editing (Chan Ki-Hop)
Best Sound Design

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 1999:
Best Picture
Best Actor (Anthony Wong)

On the surface Gordon Chan and Dante Lam's movie look like another by the books Triad/Gunplay movie. Patient viewers will soon know and appreciate this characterdrama set in the police and triad world.

Policeman Tung (Anthony Wong from The Untold Story) is secretly working with the triads and that has resulted in respect for him but also an eventless and perhaps an already lost life. Even his young partner Sam (Sam Lee from Bio Zombie) doesn't seem concerned that he's basically following someone else's downhill footsteps. It's when the team gets a new boss called Cheung (Michael Wong from Option Zero) that Tung, for the first time in a long while, gets to see what he should be or maybe once was; a cop with good moral standards. Cheung does get to be involved in the events and people who crosses paths with Tung but he's never let in on the secret he and Sam shares. But after he engages in a relationship with the girlfriend of the local triadboss, a confrontation approaches...

I had heard beforehand, even though the HKL trailer suggested otherwise, that Beast Cops wasn't really an action movie but a very deliberately slowbuilding characterpiece. Right from the start I was impressed by the natural approach, in terms of directing and camerawork, that the directors had choosen to go with. It's sometimes handheld but it's still stabile and never at anytime are we confused as to where we are. The first scene after the moody credits takes place in the gambling den, which will figure as a key setting later in the movie. If I know myself correctly, I would've hated the look of this scene. The colour scheme is basically neon blue here and normally I see it employed in a wrong distracting way . Here the cinematographer Tony Cheung (Drunken Master II) makes it click so well and it creates, what most movies using this is trying to achieve, a really good atmosphere. So from the beginning Beast Cops looked good.

The direction during the course of the movie is very held back and the camera sometimes feel like it's looking in at peoples lives and for once I felt I almost lived this world. It's a rare feeling in movies and it sure must be a sign that the filmmakers have done their job right. I haven't seen many of Gordon Chan's movies but it feels like he wanted to test his audience out by giving the impression that Beast Cops was a more wild movie. That worked both as an advantage and an disadvantage for him since not all viewers were willing to invest time in the movie. Movie fans who stuck with it got to peel of the layers and discover what a brilliant and subtle film this is.

I've heard people complain that it's a slow paced and dialogue heavy film. I can understand their concern but I feel that people may have gone into this expecting another movie in the vein of the Young And Dangerous-series. It certainly is not and the first 40 minutes proves that. Our main characters gets a slow but a very compellingly made build up and development which may not sound exciting but when the acting is so good, I'm immediately hooked. In Anthony Wong case it's very easy to forget that he's an actor playing Tung. As a character he still seems mentally stabile despite the fact that he no more has the good moral he may have started out with as a cop.

Tung is such an interesting character to follow and in the hands of a lesser known or less skillful actor, he wouldn't have achieved the depth and texture that Anthony brings to it. I felt seeing Tung was a realistic insight into how low one an sink inside but on the outside you're still able to keep your head high. Not all of what the character is made up of is talked about so it's up to us viewers to want to get to know him to fully understand some of the reasons behind his actions.

This is an ensemble piece and to talk about all the actors would've taken too much time, so I've choosen to concentrate on three of them.

Beast Cops wouldn't work so well without the precense of Anthony Wong. He didn't get his award because it was a really emotional role. It's instead the way he merges with the character that is the brilliant part of his acting. You probably noticed that Anthony is a lot heavier than usual, which was the effects of a the cure he took for the viral disease he got before filming. Ironically, his looks and body language worked so well for the overall character and makes it even more realistic I think. I can talk a lot more about Anthony's performance but I'll summarize it in one word: natural.

Michael Wong hasn't shown much flair for the acting profession and has mostly done the stereotypical cop role in the past, something he does seem to barely pull off. Beast Cops was the perfect script for him though. The American-Chinese manners and mentality that Michael has in real life is exactly what his character also has. That way it's easier for Michael to find a flow in his acting, even though he is pretty stiff in certain scenes. But backed up by a solid screenplay and a duo of directors who knew how to get the best performance possible out of him, he brings to the screen his best performance yet.

Patrick Tam plays a power hungry young triadmember and manages, during the last third of the movie, show us why he got his best supporting actor award that year. Patrick's characterarc during most of the running time is someone we've seen before in triadmovies. It's the scene in Kathy Chow's doorway that Patrick starts to show a minor human and soft side and from here he finds his rhythm. One of the themes of the movie is that even triads have hearts and humanity at times and Patrick really brings forward that theme nicely in this scene. His dark and brutal side is also really on display in a confrontational scene with Roy Cheung towards the end.

The rest of the cast is assembled by, to me, both unknown and known actors starting with Roy Cheung. For once he has a less stereotypical role to play and the slightly elderly and emotionally drained triadboss is portrayed nicely by Roy. Sam Lee is really held back in his acting and even if he is slightly goofy, he never strays from what is suiting behaviour for his character. Kathy Chow and Stephanie Che rounds up the ensemble which is almost perfectly cast.

The action we do get consists of three main set pieces. The first one is the chase between the hummer and the bus which is really well put together considering the two were NEVER shot at the same time! An unexpected and brutal attack by the triads on Cheung is a well edited and choreographed scene but the standout action scene is of course the end confrontation between Anthony Wong and Patrick Tam and his henchmen. I read reviews that people thought this machete filled finale was way over the top but I think some are missing out on a point regarding Tung's behaviour in this scene. I won't spoil it for you but look what he does in the car before entering the gambling den. In there we're treated to an intensive and gory finale which is part a little shocking but the crazy surfmusic (inspired by Pulp Fiction perhaps?) creates and almost dark comedic tone at times. I did feel that element was slightly out of place though and should probably have been scrapped at the idea stage.

One negative point I have to raise is that the motivation of Anthony Wong's character feels unclear up to a certain point and the script could have elaborated on this slightly more. In the end everything was clear and somehow I think not saying too much about Tung this was a conscious choice made by the directors.

The Hong Kong Film Academy understood Beast Cops and it deserved being named the best picture of that year. I wouldn't recommend it to casual fans of Hong Kong cinema but you avid fans should stick with this til the end. You may not understand it at once but examine it's subtle texture and message and you'll get an excellent addition to the world of Hong Kong Cinema.

The DVD:

Hong Kong Legends remastering process wasn't really needed extensively on this movie since it's a fairly recent effort. It's presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks excellent all throughout. The different colours in the cinematography are presented nicely and the clean print looks very natural.

The audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and an English dubbed 5.1 track as well. It kicked in very nicely during some of the action scenes but remained calm and centered except for ambient sounds in the surround channels at times. I didn't screen the English track.

The disc comes with a nice selection of supplements starting with the audio commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert and HKL commentary regular Bey Logan, who is this time joined by the co-director of Beast Cops: Gordon Chan. It's a very nice and relaxed discussion about most aspects of the movie. Bey knows what questions to ask and Gordon elaborates further on subjects like casting, behind the scenes-stories, shooting movies in Hong Kong and there's even a discussion about the huge piracy market in Hong Kong. It doesn't have the depth of Bey's solo commentaries but we still get a very good insight into the making of this movie.

Three interviews, especially filmed for this dvd, are also included. The first one has Gordon Chan (15 minutes) talking about some of his intentions with the movie, his long working relationship with co-director Dante Lam and the failure at the box office among other topics. There are some things here that are also told in the commentary but I thought there was still a lot of new and frank information in here.

Next up is a much thinner Anthony Wong (19 minutes) who honestly doesn't seem too interested in doing this interview. In the beginning his answers are short and unengaging but he opens up a little bit as the interview go on. There are some interesting topics discussed though, like his fairly unknown kung fu-skills, filming Beast Cops and his perception of Hong Kong cinema today.

(Anthony Wong and Stephanie Che from the interview section of the dvd)

The final interview comes from supporting actress Stephanie Che (15 minutes) who talk about her experiences making her first movie, what it felt like to get nominated and her favourite Hong Kong action movie of all time. Stephanie looks great and is more than willing to talk in great lengths about her participation in Beast Cops.

All of the above interviews are presented in anamorphic widerscreen and the participants speak english.

Other extras include a pretty useless 32 page, photo gallery, HKL's promotional trailer for this movie and also the original theatrical trailer. In the Further Attractions-section you'll find HKL-trailers for Miracles, Game Of Death, Iron Fisted Monk, In The Line Of Duty, Eastern Condors, Magnificient Butcher, Hong Kong 1941, Once Upon A Time In China 3, Purple Storm & Game Of Death 2.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson