Note to self: When in Hong Kong, donít be a stool pigeon. Or a gangster. Or a cop. Or the wife of a cop, or the sister of a gangster or the girlfriend of a gangster. Or to keep it simple, donít go to Hong Kong at all if we are to solely base our knowledge of Hong Kong on director Dante Lamís nihilistic and extremely depressing, but also very well done action / drama ĎThe Stool Pigeoní.
Don Lee (Nick Leung) is book wormish, hard working cop for the HKPD and he and his team are situated to make a bust. This bust came about because of the info given to Detective Lee by one of his stoolies, but then the bust goes haywire, the bad guy gets away and Leeís stoolie meets the wrong end of this bad guyís machete. This makes Detective Lee very sad. So sad that later that evening Detective Lee drowns his sorrow in liquor and the arms of some filthy tramp. This, as it turns out, will be relevant. Kind of. In a way. But not really if you think about it.
A year later Detective Lee is back in the crime busting game and the word is that the big time gangster known as Barbarian (Yi Lu) has a job going down. What Lee needs is another stoolie and he thinks he has his guy in career criminal Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse), a wheel man and son of late career criminal Ghost. Ghost Jr. isnít about to work for the cops because they canít be trusted, but considering his baby sister is turning tricks to pay for debts left by his old man, Lee backs him into a corner with the promise of some much needed money, and a new stool pigeon is hatched.
Simple enough, Ghost has to gather the information and relay the information back to Detective Lee, and in the best of situations this would be difficult but Barbarian and his gang members are conditioned not to trust anyone which leads to a number of tense scenes where Ghost was on the verge of getting exposed, which would not have been a good thing for the young man.
While the main story involves Ghost, Barbarian, Det. Lee and the heist, there are some personal issues happening in the background. For instance thereís the woman with the limp who runs a dance studio and who Detective Lee constantly visits. Who is she? Thereís also Barbarianís lady, Dee (Lunmei Kwai), who is none too happy with her man
right now, with all of her reasons being pretty legitimate gripes for a woman to be upset at her man. Considering that Dee is part of the gang, and also taking into consideration how lousy Barbarian is treating her right now, Iíd be keeping my eye on her if I were him. Barbarian has already shown us, in explicit detail, he doesnít appreciate it when members of his gang get out of line.
The heist goes down, Barbarians increased security makes it difficult for Ghost to get the critical info to the detective, thereís the eventual double cross and Ghost Jr. is caught up smack dab in the middle of this entire mess. Itís not looking good for Ghost right now. Or anybody in this movie for that matter.
The last movie I saw from director Dante Lam was ĎSniperí, a similarly depressing action thriller filled with damaged characters, but a movie that felt disjointed mainly because I think the director had to edit around scenes with actor Edison Chen who had gotten himself in a bit of a scandal at the time. None of the these issues of disjointed story telling or open story lines were present in ĎThe Stool Pigeoní, thatís for sure, and it is a good movieÖ well acted, an interesting story that is well told, good action scenes when the need for action was thereÖ but man is it a downer.
To the directorís credit, here he has created a character driven action movie. You may like the characters that you are watching, or you may find them deplorable, but I do believe you get to know them pretty well, and you get to familiarize yourself with their behaviors. Thus when they do this or that, it tends to make logical sense for that character, and when something happens to them, good or bad or tragic, it does leave an effect regardless of your feelings for the character. This is an impressive achievement for an action movie, with the only issue being that not a lot of good happens to the characters in this movie.
All that being said, ĎThe Stool Pigeoní is gripping entertainment. The photography is gritty, which goes right along with the subject matter just about perfectly, the action scenes are explosive and violent, Tse and Lung were fantastic in this movie, almost overshadowed by Lunmei Kwan who was completely adorable but lethal at the same time, but again there was a systematic logic to her behavior. We canít stress this simple point about this film enough.
Yes, ĎThe Stool Pigeoní is on the depressing side of things, but one of the reasons I do watch the number of foreign films that I do is because I donít know what Iím going get. It couldíve ended happy, it might end badly, I just donít know how itís going to end which is refreshing. The majority of films from this side of the pond rob you of that pleasure, which is why I have to watch movies like ĎThe Stool Pigeoní and pay attention while I watch. A darned good movie, just not one to watch if you are searching for your happy place.