Despite the promise of action in its title, “Beastcops” is more a character-driven than pure-action entry in the Hong Kong police pantheon, with an attempt by director Gordon Chan to take the mismatched buddy formula into new and dirtier ground. Slow to gain a hold but eventually paying dividends as it finds a sense of direction, the movie looks more likely to appeal to aficionados than popular markets, with some bites from Western festivals. It was the opening night attraction at the recent Hong Kong fest.
Pic is toplined by two half-Chinese stars — H.K.-born Anthony Wong, more often seen playing plug-ugly psychos, and handsome Amerasian Michael Fitzgerald Wong, who’s carved a niche out of tough, commando-style roles. Here, however, Michael is miscast as a naive, by-the-book character who’s poorly backgrounded and more a bystander to events; it’s Anthony who steals the picture, with a juicy role that draws on his capacity for playing sleazebags without (except in the blood-soaked finale) going over the top.
Anthony Wong plays Tung, a laid-back, gambling-addicted cop in a roughish area of Kowloon who’s not above taking the odd bribe and who likes to command as much respect as the triads he’s trying to coexist with. When American-born Mike (M. Wong), known as “The King of Killers” for his commando-style record, is partnered with him, Tung tries to acquaint him with the realities of policing the neighborhood.
Plot is notably uncomplicated for a cop actioner, and mostly turns on young triads out of control when their leader, Big Brother (Roy Cheung), skips town to avoid some heat. Mike finds himself drawn into the milieu, and even starts a relationship with one of the absent triad’s girls (Kathy Chau). When Big Brother returns to sort things out, Tung realizes he has to bring his blurred view of law-keeping into sharper focus, with sanguinary results.
Pic would benefit from some trimming in the first half-hour, which is diffuse and largely taken up with the two cops shooting the breeze. The two actors don’t show much natural chemistry, and M. Wong frequently looks sorely out of place. When A. Wong takes over the acting reins, the film develops into a genuinely interesting take on the genre.
Tech credits are suitably grungy, and smaller characters well drawn, especially Chau’s loopy hooker and a goofy young cop played by newcomer Sam Hui (the lead in Fruit Chan’s much-admired “Made in Hong Kong”). Action scenes and violence are relatively sparse, but punchy when they unexpectedly erupt.