Gordon Chan and Dante Lam's 1998 film Beast cops has a justly deserved reputation as one of the best Hong Kong movies since the 1997 handover, it received eight nominations at the 1999 Hong Kong film awards, winning five of them including best picture.
During the mid nineties the popular Young and dangerous series of films had been king of the box office, and Beast cops was marketed to a similar audience as those films, easy to understand as the films share many genre tropes and have a similar grungy look, this may explain the disappointing box office performance of the film, as Beast cops is a completely different film to that series, it is much more ambitious, and viewers looking for the Young and dangerous kind of action film would have been disappointed with what they got here. Beast cops is punctuated with some action scenes but it is not an action film, it is a character piece focusing on brother Tung played with fantastic skill by Anthony Wong. It has an independent film feel, and seems to have been made almost like a reality show with characters during the film addressing the camera with answers to questions that are never asked, some shots also seem like they were shot guerilla style on the Hong Kong streets, reinforcing the naturalistic feel.
I could go on about how good the film making is, as the photography, editing and direction are all excellent, I could talk about the supporting cast, Roy Cheung and Sam Lee both do very good work with not very much to work with, I could easily bore you to death with just how bad an actor Michael Wong is, although everyone knows that, but all of this pales into insignificance as the only thing to talk about here is Anthony Wong. He completely and utterly dominates the film, it is his film and his alone.
Brother Tung is such a strong presence in his scenes that while watching the movie I almost felt like I was there with him, on the streets of Hong Kong. He takes what could have been a pretty generic cops and triads story and turns it into something else. Tung has to juggle his life between his job as a cop and his position as a brother to the triads, while trying to keep on top of a gambling addiction and get closer to the woman he wants to love, Tung's situation is complicated by the arrival of Michael Wong's character as his straight laced boss and upheaval in the triad gangs caused by a situation that he is implicated in. You can feel the confusion and pain in Tung's head as the moral shades between black and white expand and contract depending on the situation he finds himself in, until inevitably things come to a head and something has to give.
|Tung is having one of those days|
Anthony Wong's performance is heartfelt, funny, ferocious and just plain awesome, turning from humour to desperation, frustration and drug fuelled rage, Tung always feels like a real human being with the camaraderie towards his cop friends and triads, and even tenderness with Stephanie Che's character. This performance is the kind that if it was an American actor in the role, the only one I could think of that could do it justice would be Harvey Keitel, and that is high praise from me.
I just cannot leave the Michael Wong thing alone, how did anyone ever cast him in anything? He hasn't improved over the years either, Overheard proved that. He didn't manage to spoil Beast cops though which I something, and he did really make me laugh with his comedy dancing in the nightclub scene.
|Check out my moves|
Just in case you didn't get it yet, Anthony Wong's acting raises Beast cops into one of the best Hong Kong films of the last fifteen or so years, an absolute must see.