The more I get into this review writing gig (I say this like I just started writing movie reviews last week when it’s been half a dozen years), the more I appreciate foreign films. I am no longer afraid of subtitles, culturally sensitive sub-plots, or the use of specific foreign mythological creatures as supporting characters. I am not even sure what I just said. Anyway, we have an interesting foreign film to review today entitled “Sin Yan” or more commonly known by the American title as Stool Pigeon.
We are in Hong Kong, manufacturing side of town. A couple of vans pull up along with a Jeep. Inside the Jeep is Inspector Don Lee (played by Nick Cheung) awaiting to make an arrest. Meanwhile, in a nearby warehouse we lay witness to a drug deal masterminded by mob boss Marco (played by Vincent Wan Yeung-Ming). Lee’s informant, Jabber (played by Liu Kai-chi) is on the inside and waits patiently for the police to make their move.
No sooner than we set the scene than Marco gets a phone call about there being a spy in their midst. He motions the thugs to start flushing the material while Jabber worriedly looks on. Soon a fight erupts and the cops decide to move in. Unfortunately, in the midst of the action Marco is able to get away. This leaves Jabber with a blown cover and nowhere to turn. The informant does get paid a small pittance but neglects to take up Inspector Lee’s offer to be driven home and walks instead.
Unfortunately for the informant, he walks straight into Marco and his gang. They proceed to slice the stoolie up with cleavers to within an inch of his life before police see what is going on. Meanwhile, Lee gets promoted to Senior Inspector and tries to enjoy the night by drinking away his regrets and getting into the covers with a woman on a one-night stand. His life will never be the same.
One year later, Inspector Lee is teaching a new group of inspectors on how to obtain and treat an informant. He does this in spite of the fact that budgets are low and will not allow much flexibility negotiating with the stoolies. Lee also takes to opportunity to scout a new informant named Sai-Fui Ho also known as Ghost, Jr (played by Nicholas Tse) who is about to get out of the Pik Uk Prison. Lee secretly meets with Ghost Jr and offers him the position.
Ghost initially turns it down, he knows about how informants typically end up and how little they get paid (unless they get criminals prosecuted). He already owes a million dollars and the mob has his sister (played by Sherman Chung) working as a woman of the evening. Ghost Jr even tries in vain to steal his sister back only to get his face punched in. Soon, he goes back to his old hobby of stealing cars only to be found out by none other than Inspector Lee.
Ghost Jr has no other choice and decides to accept the informant position. His assignment is to infiltrate a jewelry shop theft ring. It is headed by Tai Ping (played by Philip Keung) and masterminded by the Barbarian (played by Lu Yi). Ghost is to go in as a driver for the outfit and feed Inspector Lee information. However, once he gets inside and is introduced to Barbarian’s girlfriend, Dee (played by Lunmei Kwai), things start to change.
Most movies of an Asian descent I usually find myself knee deep in kung fu fighting so to speak. It is not meant as disrespect but if most people were asked what type of genre most Asian films were, then I would think most people would associate the obvious. But this film is one part Fast & the Furious, one part gritty cop drama and one part heist. It blends many obvious genres into a not so obvious Japanese flic. The actors and actresses do a great job of fleshing out characters and giving us plenty to appreciate.
Liu Kai-Chi’s Jabber and Nicholas Tse’s Ghost Jr were probably the two parts that stood out the most. Each one often stole their scenes with the most ease by a simple look or a gesture of how their character was played out. It is see why Nicholas won a Hong Kong film award for Best Actor. My only negative was that Nick Cheung’s portrayal of Inspector Don Lee was played very wooden. For a character who goes through so much emotion, sometimes I did not feel it as much as I expected to.
The video is in 2.35:1 widescreen presentation at 1080p resolution. The picture is very good and we get to see a lot of the Hong Kong landscape. Colors are plentiful and night scenes are handled just as well as daytime ones. I also liked the diversity of sets which made for much visual appeal (and so did Lunmei Kwai). There is a lot to look at and the presentation is very solid.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 DTS-HD track for Cantonese (English 5.1 DTS-HD dub included along with 2.0 mixes for both languages). This review was done in the original language of Cantonese with English Subtitles. The audio is honestly one of the best I’ve heard and a great representation of high paced Asian cinema without karate inspired sound effects. Dialog is strong and easily discernible. The surrounds will get a grand workout as evidenced in car chase scenes and the abandoned school ending.
- Automatic Trailers: Shaolin, Little Big Soldier, King of Fighters and Legend of the Fist – Return of Chen Zhen.
- Behind the Scenes 46:38: This is basically scenes thrown together from the director’s chair so to speak. No narration unfortunately, just scene footage in a raw format. We get some sound dropouts, crazy cam and head shaving. Sounds like all in a day’s work. To be honest, they spend too long on most of the scenes. But it’s interesting in spots nevertheless.
- Deleted Scenes 11:10: Five different scenes are included here. While I don’t think they would have fit (most were extensions of character), they are certainly a good piece of viewing.
- Making Of 15:13 : Standard making of stuff. They talk about the story, discuss the characters and motivations and don’t tell us who these people are in the crew telling us this vital information. I recognize the cast, but without a Japanese translation, I have no clue on the crew end.
- International Trailer A 1:12 : Focuses on what a stool pigeon actually is while establishing a relationship with the two principle characters.
- International Trailer B 1:46 : The more classical trailer. Lots of action, lots of praise, very little understanding what the movie is about. Go see it now!
- DVD: A DVD of the film is also included for those who need the capability.
A word of warning to those who watch this film, do not expect this to have a peaceful ending. Well, I guess that depends on your definition of peace. The truth is that this is a gritty film but a well done piece of cinema for sure. Actors and actresses do a fine job and personally I am always pleased with how well they shoot locations which add only further elements to the presentation. This is a great film, seriously and not your typical Japanese film.
The video is above average and this is another amazing Well Go audio presentation right up there with the Ip Man 2 blu that I reviewed a while back. The extras are a mixed bag as they have the heavy odor of just being thrown together for the sake of being there. I wonder if Well Go would ever consider a Dragon Dynasty type maneuver where they have an American film critic do a commentary for the top films they put out. *caugh* *wave hand*Anyway, enough cheap pops, recommend this movie up and down, its fantastic for all of the right reasons. Enjoy.